Biden, Ridge VP Faves

THE race for vice president in both parties is headed by Irish Americans at the time of writing. According to the MSNBC Hardball list, Senator Joe Biden on the Democratic side and Tom Ridge on the Republican side are the front-runners.

Interestingly both hail from Pennsylvania, a key state which has a huge Irish Catholic population which will be critical in November. In Ridge's case in particular, as a former Pennsylvania governor, his selection would undoubtedly put the state in play.

The fact that both are Irish Catholics is undoubtedly a factor in why they are among the favorites. Both men give the top of the ticket a chance to play to the ultimate swing vote these days in American elections, those Reagan Democrats who swing back and forth between the two parties and decide elections.

Though Biden represents Delaware, his family on his mother's side, the Finnegans, came from Ireland to settle in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

As he recounted in an interview with our sister publication Irish America, Biden had a great grandmother who spoke fluent Gaelic and translated all the letters from home which were written in Gaelic, after the family arrived here.

"My grandmother used to say, 'Remember Joey Biden, the best drop of blood in you is Irish,'" Biden recalled in the interview.

Politics runs in the family. Biden's great grandfather Edward Blewett was the first Irish Catholic state senator in the state and co-founder of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick around 1908.

Biden grew up in Scranton, which was overwhelmingly Irish. His Aunt Gertie filled his head with talk of Ireland growing up.

"Now you remember Joey about the Black and Tans," he recalled her saying. She could recite chapter and verse about them.

Biden stated that Wolfe Tone was his political hero, saying he gave his life for the principle of civil rights for all people.

Biden is also a committed Catholic. "I deeply believe in my religion" he told Irish America. "I believe that some real wisdom has accrued over 2,000 years of Catholicism. I never miss Mass."

How Biden Helps Obama

IF Biden were picked it would certainly take care of the Irish Catholic part of the puzzle for Barack Obama.

There has been criticism, as reported here last week, about Obama's lack of outreach to the community. Both Tom Hayden, an Obama supporter, and Professor John McCarthy, writing in the Irish Echo last week, were critical of his lack of ethnic outreach.

It is a refrain you will hear far and wide in the Irish American community. The presidential forum hosted by former New York State Assemblyman John Dearie has had great difficulty connecting with the Obama camp and securing a commitment form them to come to the forum. It is believed forum organizers are quite confident, however, that McCain will attend a session.

With his background Biden would certainly fit the bill, especially in a state like Pennsylvania where the Irish vote will be critical. No doubt Obama could also use his selection, if he decides to pick him, as a bridge to Catholics generally, the one group he is having major problems connecting with and who went heavily to Senator Hillary Clinton in the primaries.

Ridge a Likely Pick

MEANWHILE, Tom Ridge is also shaping us as a potential contender for the VP slot for Senator John McCain.

Ridge's people hail from Galway, and he was born in 1945 to Slovak, Irish and Cherokee parents. The Cherokee part is interesting because it would make him the first part Indian to ever run on a national ticket.

Like McCain, Ridge is a decorated Vietnam War veteran, and also like McCain he still carries scars form that conflict. He suffered profound hearing loss which means he has to wear powerful hearing aids to this day.

In 1982 he became congressman and in 1994 won an upset victory to become governor of Pennsylvania. After 9/11 President Bush picked him as his Homeland Security czar, a job Ridge performed quite well in.

He is a pro-choice Catholic, like Biden, which would certainly cause problems for the party among its evangelical grassroots. However, Ridge would put Pennsylvania in play, and if McCain wins that state then he would have to be favorite to shade the White House race.

Death of O Gadhra

THE death has occurred in Ireland of Nollaig O Gadhra, a well-known broadcaster and Irish Republican of long standing. He was 64.

O Gadhra was one of the founders of Telefis na Gaelige, the Irish language television channel that has been an outstanding success. He will be long remembered for his advocacy on behalf of the Irish language. He was chairman of Conradh na Gaelige, an Irish language lobby group.

He was best known over here as a commentator on the dissident republican radio program every Saturday in New York. O Gadhra was a confirmed skeptic of the peace process, and it certainly came across in his commentary.

Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen has described o Gadhra as a proud Irishman and Republican, who always promoted the country's culture and heritage. He was also the author of several books.