"Gov. Ridge says Pennsylvanians -- not the federal government -- deserve credit for prosperity," read the headline on a press release issued on George W. Bush letterhead and sent to reporters as Vice President Al Gore embarked upon what he is calling the "progress and prosperity" tour Wednesday.
In and of itself, the release was unsubstantial, a standard hit on the vice president, part of the usual sea of political propaganda from both parties that clogs the fax machines of the political press corps. The attack came not from the Bush campaign itself nor from the Republican National Committee, but from the political office of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, whose name has emerged on most speculative shortlists of Bush veep candidates. The contact number in the corner rang into the office of the Ridge Leadership Fund, the governor's political action committee, which he uses to help bankroll state GOP candidates.
"It's Gov. Ridge acting as a surrogate for the campaign," Bush spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said of the release. "It's a political release for him, directly in regards to the vice president's visit to Pennsylvania."
But the release also gave Ridge the opportunity to tout his record. "We put out the release locally, and the Bush campaign put it out nationally," said Leslie Gromis, who works both as a regional chairperson of the Bush campaign and as executive director of Ridge's leadership fund.
While Bush and his advisors remained huddled in Kennebunkport, Maine, responsibility for responding to Gore's speech fell partially to Ridge, the pro-choice, Catholic governor who has been the most public of vice-presidential candidates. The release quickly scrolled through Ridge's record as a tax-cutting job creator and bureaucratic reformer in the glowing language of press releases, giving Ridge a chance to show his feathers to the national press corps with an OK from the presumptive presidential nominee.
"There will probably be more and more of this as the campaign goes on, whether it comes from vice presidential candidates or not," Tucker said. "A lot of people will be acting as surrogates, working to get Gov. Bush elected president."
"This was just something the Bush campaign wanted to do," Gromis said. "Don't read anything into this."