Former Gov. Tom Ridge on Thursday threw his support behind fellow Republican Mehmet Oz in the race for Pennsylvania's open U.S. Senate seat.
Ridge, an Erie native and the nation's first secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said in a statement that he's met with Oz, the celebrity heart surgeon, several times over the past year.
"The issues facing Pennsylvania and our nation are significant," Ridge, who turned 77 in late August, said in a statement released by the Oz campaign. "It will require smart leaders who are passionate about finding creative solutions.
"We discussed those issues, and I had an opportunity to hear from him directly about why he’s chosen to step into the political arena," Ridge said about his discussions with Oz. "I was most impressed by his intellect and his desire to serve our Commonwealth and nation with energy and passion. I wholeheartedly support his bid to become our next senator."
Oz faces off against Fetterman
Oz is running against Democrat Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, but has trailed the former Braddock mayor in nearly every poll since the May 17 primary.
Oz and Fetterman are vying for the seat currently held by incumbent Republican Pat Toomey, who opted not to seek re-election after two terms. It's one of the key races in the midterms for control of the U.S. Senate and could help or hinder President Joe Biden's and Democrats' agenda for the next two years.
Oz visited Erie Thursday to tour Parade Street and discuss crime and safety with Bishop Dwane Brock, pastor of the Victory Christian Center and chief executive of Eagle's Nest Leadership Corp. Oz also spoke to energy industry leaders at the Bayfront Convention Center for the Shale Insight conference hosted by the Marcellus Shale Coalition.
Ridge, who has vehemently rejected former President Donald Trump and who supported Biden in the 2020 presidential election, has been a moderate voice in a party that's grown more conservative under Trump. Ridge has supported COVID-19 mitigation efforts enacted by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf during the pandemic. He's also been a proponent of mail-in voting. In 2020, Ridge backed Biden over Trump for president.
"Governor Ridge has dedicated the greater part of his life to serving the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and our country both in our Armed Forces and the public sector," Oz said in a statement. "The depth of his commitment to honor, duty, and service is not easily matched, and I have benefited from his counsel — including his deep understanding of our commonwealth and the challenges we are facing."
Oz said he will "bring together people regardless of party and speak boldly for the innovative solutions that benefit all Pennsylvanians."
Both Fetterman and Oz have eyed Erie County throughout the Senate race. Oz held a roundtable discussion in North East with area farmers in June and addressed a group of veterans in Wesleyville in early August, for example.
Fetterman, who has visited Erie many times since first running for the Senate seat in 2016, chose Erie in August to hold his first campaign rally since suffering a stroke in May, just days before the primary. Fetterman often refers to Erie County's bellwether status in determining the outcome of elections.
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Former Gov. Tom Ridges backs Dr. Oz in U.S. Senate race