09/24/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama's Pick Creates GOP Opportunity

In selecting his best possible running mate, Barack Obama has just handed John McCain a terrific opportunity.

Make no mistake: Sen. Joe Biden was a prudent pick. Senator Joe has the seasoning and foreign-policy experience that Obama lacks.

He has overcome personal adversity to lead an impressive career. He's both intelligent and telegenic. He's scrupulous. And he has the common touch.

Perhaps most important is this: Biden is an asset in the bellwether Philadelphia suburbs, which will decide Pennsylvania and possibly the nation.

The man who rides Amtrak home to Delaware after a day of Senate business is sometimes referred to as Pennsylvania's third senator, both for his continued proximity and his Scranton roots.

Selecting Biden was Obama's play for Pennsylvania by way of the Philly 'burbs, and it's a good one.

But by making that play, Obama has given McCain the political cover he needed to respond with his best available pick:

Tom Ridge.

Ridge has much to offer McCain. From public housing to Harvard, his narrative is ready for the history books: He's a Vietnam veteran, a former U.S. representative and governor, and the first secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

He's Central Casting handsome and loyal to McCain.

And to top things off, he is an abortion-rights advocate.

Yes, I am including that position as an attribute for the ticket - mainly because the very people McCain needs to reach are pro-choice.

McCain's impressive performance Aug. 17 at the forum hosted by Rick Warren at the Saddleback Church earned him cred with the anti-abortion crowd.

He said all the right things that night, and the next morning Ridge made clear in an appearance with Chris Wallace on Fox News that he would reflect the president's positions if selected.

They would run under an antiabortion banner, but McCain's selection of Ridge would be a sign to non-litmus-test voters that they, too, are welcome - in the same way the Democratic platform has welcomed antiabortion voters.

The political middle is ripe for McCain support. Consider this: In a poll released last week by NBC and the Wall Street Journal, a staggering 21 percent of women who had supported Hillary Rodham Clinton said they were supporting McCain.

Sure, they're angry and want to see their candidate back on the ballot in 2012.

But I suspect they're also responding to McCain's efforts to recruit them.

McCain's success in appealing to former Clinton supporters proves he can gain ground in the middle, but not by resorting to the usual Republican reliance on turning out the vote by hitting the hot-button issues such as opposition to gay rights, flag-burning or abortion.

This is not a cycle in which the GOP should seek to drive the vote in Lancaster County. Now is the time to win hearts and minds in Montco.

I know that some pundits, including Rush Limbaugh, are saying McCain can ill afford to alienate the right by selecting an abortion-rights advocate as a running mate.

I disagree.

The suspicion of Obama among conservatives, epitomized by Jerome Corsi's new book, The Obama Nation, is deep and immutable.

Those conservatives will come out to vote, and neither maverick nor monsoon will stop them from doing so.

Some may be kicking and screaming, but they will be there Nov. 4.

They view the election as a referendum on Obama, and their minds are made up.

Suburbanites, meanwhile, are the non-ideological, pragmatic determinists of this contest, according to the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech.

And those of us in the Philadelphia suburbs will play a particular role.

Pennsylvania is again a swing state.

And the state will be swung according to what happens in Bucks, Chester, Montgomery and Delaware Counties.

Those who sent Ed Rendell to Harrisburg will call this shot. Collectively they constitute the Philadelphia media market. They read The Inquirer, subsist on Action News, and get their headlines from KYW Newsradio.

All of which gets me back to Joe Biden.

We know him. We like him. Biden tilts Pennsylvania in Obama's direction. Which is why McCain has just been handed an opportunity to do something I suspect he wanted to do all along: choose Ridge as his running mate.

Obama-Biden vs. McCain-Ridge. We can settle it all in a polling place right here in the Philadelphia suburbs.