RIDGE TAKES A PASS…. Republicans leaders practically begged Tom Ridge to run for the Senate in Pennsylvania, assuming, correctly, that he would be their best candidate.

The lobbying efforts didn’t pay off — Ridge passed on the race today.

“After careful consideration and many conversations with friends and family and the leadership of my party, I have decided not to seek the Republican nomination for Senate,” Ridge said in a statement.

“I am enormously grateful for the confidence my party expressed in me, the encouragement and kindness of my fellow citizens in Pennsylvania and the valuable counsel I received from so many of my party colleagues.”

Ridge’s decision is a setback for Republicans looking to challenge Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) in next year’s general election. Several public polls showed Ridge running competitively against Specter in a general election.

The party is concerned that former GOP congressman Pat Toomey is too conservative to win a general election in the Keystone State.

Ridge would have no doubt faced some withering attacks from Toomey and the right, which may have discouraged him. His association with the Bush administration, his lobbying work, and the fact that he hasn’t actually lived in Pennsylvania for several years might have also factored into the decision. That Ridge would have had to take a big pay cut no doubt mattered, too.

As for the party and the Senate race, Republicans are now likely to turn to Rep. Jim Gerlach, from the southeast corner of the state, as a challenger for Toomey.

And what of the Democrats? The good news for Specter is that Ridge was a very credible general-election candidate, and today’s decision removes the most competitive Republican. The bad news for Specter, as Brian Beutler explained, “[O]ne of the key arguments for nominating Specter is his name recognition and strength in a general election. With Ridge out of the race, the risk to Democrats of a potential Joe Sestak candidacy is greatly diminished.”

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.