UPDATED with Ridge statement about the comments
(CNN) – John McCain’s campaign says the narrowing path to victory this fall runs straight through Pennsylvania, where he trails Barack Obama by double digits in the most recent CNN poll of polls. Now the state’s former governor says that if he were on the Republican ticket, the road to the White House might have been a less bumpy one.
"I think the dynamics would be different in Pennsylvania," Tom Ridge, the McCain campaign’s national co-chairman, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in an interview published Friday. "I think we'd be foolish not to admit it publicly."
The former Secretary of Homeland Security, who was reportedly on McCain’s VP shortlist, added that McCain "had several good choices and I was one of them."
But he said the Palin selection was a "typical, bold McCain-like choice," and that the perception that she has been a drag on the Arizona senator’s chances was likely because "she's been hammered by the pundits."
Pennsylvania tops a shrinking list of battlegrounds for the McCain camp. The campaign has essentially conceded former wish-list states like Michigan and typical GOP strongholds like Colorado. But both McCain and running mate Sarah Palin have spent the race’s waning days essentially re-enacting Hillary Clinton’s successful strategy in the weeks leading up to the state’s Democratic primary– reaching out to working-class white voters in the rural and western parts of Pennsylvania.
"Unless we win Pennsylvania, I don't think [McCain] is elected president," Ridge told the Tribune-Review.
That offensive coincided with comments by Rep. John Murtha, an Obama surrogate, that some voters in that area are “racist” – and made Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor, Ed Rendell, nervous enough to ask the campaign to send the Illinois senator back to a state that had been considered a likely win.
Clinton and Democratic VP nominee Joe Biden, who both have roots in Scranton, have made appearances on the trail there this month.
UPDATE: In a statement issued by the McCain campaign Friday afternoon, Ridge said his remarks had been misconstrued. "I was asked a question, and I delivered an honest answer that was taken completely out of context. I wholeheartedly believe that John McCain made the right choice by selecting Sarah Palin to join him on the ticket,” he said.
“As a former two-time Governor of Pennsylvania, I was simply making the point that, of course, the dynamics of the race in PA would be different if the former governor of PA were on the ticket. The dynamics of the race would be different in Florida if Governor Crist were on the ticket. Or Minnesota if Pawlenty had been selected. That's a given. I have stated many times, as I did today, that I believe John made an excellent choice and that Governor Palin will make a great Vice President. I have witnessed firsthand the excitement she has generated in Pennsylvania and throughout America and I believe she will help deliver our Commonwealth's 21 electoral votes to our GOP ticket this November 4th."