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Inside Politics

Greenfield: Ridge endorses McCain, but will anyone care?

Story Highlights

• Tom Ridge endorses Republican Sen. John McCain for president
• Former Pennsylvania governor says McCain is ready to lead "from day one"
• Ridge's endorsement may provide little boost to McCain's campaign
• Endorsements have little impact on voters unless they are unexpected
By Jeff Greenfield
CNN Senior Analyst
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Just how much does it mean when a major presidential candidate wins another politician's endorsement? It's possible -- indeed almost inevitable -- that it'll be poked, prodded, and pondered for every scrap of significance. But let me suggest another approach -- take a deep breath, and try the decaf.

Tom Ridge on Wednesday endorsed Arizona Sen. John McCain, one of several candidates for the Republican Party's 2008 presidential nomination. Ridge is a former governor of Pennsylvania, which has lots of convention delegates, and, maybe more to the point, he's the former head of the Department of Homeland Security.

When declaring his endorsement of McCain, Ridge said "I think as we look to 2008, he's an individual who will be prepared to lead on day one." (Watch Ridge explain why he endorsed McCain Video)

A ha! There's the significance! After all, it's former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani whose work in the hours and days after September 11, 2001, made him "America's Mayor" and a viable White House contender. So maybe it's a blow to Giuliani.

Or maybe not. After all, Ridge's tenure at Homeland Security was not exactly smooth sailing. For instance, the suggestion that Americans protect their homes with duct tape drew derisive tabloid headlines, including "Daffy Duct" and "Duct and Cover."

And as for the famous color-coded warnings -- that was pure grist for the "Saturday Night Live" mill.

More broadly, endorsements in general have proven less than consequential. In 1972, Sen. Ed Muskie had virtually the entire Democratic establishment behind him, His campaign was dead by spring.

In 2000, former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu and just about the whole of the New Hampshire Republican political community backed George W. Bush. McCain beat him by 19 points.

And in late 2003, the surging campaign of Howard Dean was boosted by the backing of the Democrats' last nominee, Al Gore. Coincidence or not, the campaign began to "un-surge" almost immediately.

That fall, two iconic heroes of American males -- Bruce Springsteen and Howard Stern -- threw their support to Democrat John Kerry -- who lost the white male vote by a landslide.

So when does an endorsement matter? When it's a surprise because it comes from an unlikely source. For example, if Bill Clinton were to back Barack Obama, that would be a pretty big deal.

Tom Ridge did not win universal praise when he served as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.



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