A two-term governor, Ridge is a popular Republican from a traditionally moderate-Democratic state. He was twice mentioned as a potential Republican candidate for vice president — for a brief period during the early days of Bob Dole’s run for the presidency in 1996 and, more recently, as a potential running mate for candidate Bush.
Born in Pittsburgh’s Steel Valley, Ridge was raised in a working-class family in veterans’ public housing in Erie. His parents were politically active — his father a Democrat, his mother a Republican.
Ridge earned a scholarship to Harvard, attended his first year at The Dickinson School of Law, and then was drafted into the U.S. Army. He served as an infantry staff sergeant in Vietnam and earned the Bronze Star for Valor.
After returning to Pennsylvania and earning his law degree, he became an assistant district attorney in Erie County. He was elected to Congress in 1982. He was the first enlisted Vietnam combat veteran elected to the U.S. House, and was re-elected six times.
Ridge was sworn in as Pennsylvania’s 43rd governor on January 17, 1995. He was re-elected in 1998 with 57 percent of the vote in a four-way race. Ridge’s share of the vote was the highest for a Republican governor in Pennsylvania (where Democrats outnumber Republicans by almost 500,000) in more than half a century.
His social agenda has included welfare reform and a special legislative session on crime that gave birth to a three-strikes law and a faster death-penalty process. Ridge has signed more than 200 execution warrants since becoming governor in 1995, including two warrants for Mumia Abu-Jamal, the convicted killer of a Philadelphia police officer whose case is a well-known cause among anti-death penalty activists.
Ridge and his wife, Michele, have two adopted children.