HARRISBURG, Pa. – Riding a wave of popularity following the rescue of nine trapped miners last summer, Republican Gov. Mark S. Schweiker may be the most popular choice for Pennsylvania's next governor.
Trouble is, he isn't running.
A Millersville University poll shows Schweiker leading in a hypothetical race against former Philadelphia Mayor Edward G. Rendell, 47 percent to 29 percent. Rendell, the Democratic nominee for governor, is leading GOP candidate Mike Fisher by about the same margin.
``It's a good thing that we live in the real world,'' said Dan Fee, Rendell's campaign spokesman.
Schweiker has refused to discuss the poll.
Schweiker inherited the job when former Gov. Tom Ridge was appointed homeland security director. He could have run for a full four-year term, but he ruled that out two years ago, saying he wanted more time with his family. GOP leaders pleaded with him to reconsider, to no avail.
He served in obscurity during nearly seven years as lieutenant governor and in his early months as governor. But his public image was transformed by his role as spokesman for the dramatic, 77-hour rescue of the men trapped 240 feet underground in the Quecreek Mine in western Pennsylvania last summer.
``Nine for nine!'' Schweiker joyously exclaimed on national television, raising his fists over his head. Within days, he found himself traveling across the county to appear as Jay Leno's guest on ``The Tonight Show.''
The Sept. 26-29 poll showed Rendell with 45 percent of the vote, Fisher with 30 percent, and 24 percent undecided. The margin of error was plus or minus four percentage points.
Republican activists shrugged off the poll, as did the Fisher campaign, calling the question irrelevant.
Schweiker is looking for work in the private sector but is not necessarily quitting politics for good.
``He can reserve that judgment for another day,'' said David Sanko, chief of staff.