(CNSNews.com) - With both Colin Powell and John McCain making it clear in recent weeks that they don't want to be vice-president under presumptive Republican nominee George W Bush, attention is refocused on a list of contenders that includes Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge.
McCain, in his endorsement of Bush earlier this month, was adamant that he didn't want the second spot on the ticket.
As for Powell, who will meet with Bush Friday, he has already told the Texas governor's campaign he's not interested.
"People who don't want to be considered for vice-president are not going to be considered for vice-president," Bush told reporters Thursday.
The withdrawal of these two 500-pound political gorillas from the vice-presidential sweepstakes shifts attention to a list of second-tier politicians, with most observers agreeing that Ridge is the frontrunner.
Bush, who has called Ridge "a friend of mine," said recently on the campaign trail that "he has been a good governor of the state of Pennsylvania, and he's under serious consideration, as are a lot of other people." Ridge has many attractive qualities, most observers agree: the successful governor of a large, must-win state, Ridge mirrors Bush's moderate conservatism.
Ridge is also a Catholic from the north, which balances Bush's southern Protestantism, and is a decorated war veteran (his hearing was damaged in Vietnam), which would take some of the heat off of Bush's wartime service in the Texas Air National Guard.
But Ridge has attracted considerable criticism for his support of abortion, causing some to predict that conservatives will bolt the party if Ridge is tapped. Ridge's outspokenness on the issue even moved his local bishop, Donald Trautman of Erie, PA, to bar the governor from speaking or appearing at Catholic events.
According to some Catholics and pro-lifers, Ridge would drive a wedge into the party.
"The political benefits [of picking Ridge] would immediately be diminished by the resulting controversy," said Steve Wagner, director of the polling firm QEV Analytics, who has advised the Bush campaign on Catholic voters.
Wagner, who has undertaken a series of polls of religiously-active Catholics, said conservative Catholics who would be most offended by Ridge tend to be concentrated in key states such as Michigan, Ohio and Illinois.
According to Wagner, if Bush was determined to pick a pro-choice vice-president, it "would be better from the point of view of this bloc of voters that [Bush] pick a Protestant" along the lines of Colin Powell.
Republican pro-life groups have already lined up to warn Bush that Ridge would jeopardize the Republican coalition.
"We would be unable to support a Republican ticket that included Governor Ridge," said a spokesperson for the Republican National Coalition for Life. In the most recent conservative journal Human Events, Focus on the Family head James Dobson said he would never cast a vote for any candidate who was pro-choice. . . . If George W Bush chooses a pro-choice running mate, I'm going to vote for someone else."
Former GOP presidential contenders Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes have also warned that they will bolt the party if Ridge is chosen.
But Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson told Meet The Press in early May that he could support a Bush-Ridge ticket, though he thought "many Christians would be unable" to follow his lead. Robertson's office declined to comment for this story.
And Ann Stone, head of Republicans for Choice, said Ridge is "exactly the kind of pro-choice politician who will be acceptable to a wide range of conservatives."
"He's a moderate, centrist, inclusive governor who reaches out to people," said Stone, who added that Ridge could "widen the party and bring in a lot of women and moderate voters. . . . Picking Ridge would prove to a lot of people that George W Bush means what he says when he talks about there being no litmus tests in a Bush administration."
Recently, Ridge has modified some of his comments on abortion, stressing his support for a ban on partial-birth abortion and abortions after the 24th week, as well as parental notification laws and a 24-hour waiting period.
He has also backed off from calls to change the GOP's pro-life campaign plank, telling reporters that he agrees "with the principle that the platform should represent
the point of view of the nominee, and it's pretty clear what . . . Governor Bush's point of view is on this."
A Republican consultant in Washington, DC, who has advised Bush, said Ridge's recent statements were "clearly designed to make him more palatable to pro-lifers, though I don't think it will work."
Other names that have been rumored to be on the short list: Ohio Representative John Kasich (too young, and "lacking in gravitas," according to one Republican activist); Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating (largely unknown, and no regional balance); Michigan Governor John Engler (whose stock fell considerably when he could not deliver the Republican primary for Bush in February); presidential contender Elizabeth Dole (national stature, but considered by some to be a poor campaigner); and retiring Florida Senator Connie Mack (Bush connections make the state nearly a lock, and Mack has said he wants to retire from politics).
Ultimately, said Wagner, the choice may be a surprise.
"Bush is not ruling anybody out, and there are a lot of people on the list. . . . I think the choice will probably be someone who hasn't had as much buzz as others."