Judge Thomas Hardiman was in the Washington area Monday, but it was for a meeting on court cybersecurity — not for a prime-time introduction as President Donald Trump's choice for the U.S. Supreme Court.
It was the second time in two years that Hardiman was one of Trump's finalists. The federal appeals judge from Pittsburgh was a runner-up last year to Neil Gorsuch and on Monday to Brett Kavanaugh.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican, said Tuesday that Hardiman was taking the letdown "very well."
"He said to me, 'When you grow up on the other side of the tracks, you're used to taking a few bumps,'" Santorum said.
Hardiman, who turned 53 on Sunday, has a working-class background. He spent the summer between graduating from Notre Dame and starting law school at Georgetown as a dispatcher and driver at his family's cab company in Waltham, Massachusetts.
Santorum, who has known Hardiman for decades, said the two-time finalist was wondering if there was a reason he keeps missing out. Santorum blamed an "inside-the-Beltway mentality" that "you've got to pick someone from Yale" — as Trump did.
Santorum said he was more disappointed than Hardiman, saying he "really thought Trump was going to do something different."
A friend and former legal colleague, Duquesne University President Ken Gormley, said that by Tuesday morning, Hardiman was "busy at work doing his work as judge."
Gormley said Hardiman texted him that he knows Kavanaugh and that "he's a great person and a great judge, and he thinks he'll make a great justice. He was happy for him."
Hardiman hasn't spoken publicly about his latest near-selection and didn't return messages from The Associated Press.
In the hours before Trump's Jan. 31, 2017, announcement of Gorsuch's nomination, Hardiman was driving from his home near Pittsburgh in the general direction of Washington, prompting scuttlebutt he was being selected.
At one point during his travels, he was spotted by a cable news camera crew while filling his gas tank.
But the judge on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals went only about 100 miles that day to the home of Judge D. Brooks Smith, the circuit's chief judge, near Altoona, Pennsylvania.
On Tuesday, Smith said his wife, aware that Hardiman was again a finalist, told him, "I'm going to make sure the house is in better shape this time."
Smith said that in recent weeks, Hardiman had been making sure his judicial duties were up to date, lest he leave his colleagues in the lurch if he left the appeals court abruptly.
"I certainly don't expect that Judge Hardiman will change in any way," Smith said. "He's a solid guy."
Hardiman is a conservative voice on the circuit court that hears appeals from cases in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the U.S. Virgin Islands
As far as consecutive near-misses, Hardiman isn't in the league of Susan Lucci, the soap-opera actress who was nominated for 18 consecutive Daytime Emmy awards before she won one, or the Buffalo Bills teams that made the Super Bowl four times in a row only to lose each game.
"At least he made it to the playoffs," said Theodore McKee, another 3rd Circuit judge.
Friends and colleagues said that Hardiman was honored to be considered for the high court and hadn't campaigned for a position. A former circuit court colleague, Maryanne Trump Barry — the president's sister — reportedly championed him for the job.
Robert Cindrich, who worked at a law firm with Hardiman in the 1990s and then served with him as a federal trial judge in the 2000s, said it might not be the last time Hardiman is up for a Supreme Court job.
"There will be other vacancies," Cindrich said. "Judge Hardiman is a young man. I don't write this off entirely."
Associated Press writer Catherine Lucey contributed to this article.
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