Evansville's mayor said Saturday that won't run for governor in 2012, leaving the field for next year's Democratic Party nomination even more wide open.
Jonathan Weinzapfel said in a statement that he decided that running for governor would have taken up too much of his family time. He said that being Evansville's mayor allows him to "still have time to enjoy my children, watch them grow up and participate in their lives in a meaningful way. I'm not ready to give that up."
"It's kind of tough getting your mind around spending the next 21 months away from your family when your kids still call you 'Daddy,'" he said.
Weinzapfel's decision leaves the Democrats with no natural front-runner in the race to succeed Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, who can't seek re-election because of term limits.
Weinzapfel, who unseated the city's incumbent Republican mayor in 2003 and won a landslide re-election in 2007, announced in January that he would not seek a third term as mayor of Indiana's third-largest city.
He told the Evansville Courier & Press that he decided about two weeks ago not to run for governor and told his family and close friends. Weinzapfel told the newspaper he wants to remain active in Democratic politics and might some day run for office again.
Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker said in a statement Saturday that Weinzapfel "has a bright future ahead of him — both professionally and politically."
The Courier & Press reports that many political observers believe a 2008 meeting in which Weinzapfel and other local leaders agreed to let a local property tax credit lapse without telling anyone at the time was an obstacle he would not have been able to overcome in a gubernatorial campaign.
Republicans, including Daniels, criticized the move. And Rick Davis, a Democrat who announced his intention to challenge Weinzapfel in the primary if the mayor ran for a third term, said the episode would be a key campaign issue.
"Here's something else that isn't a secret if the mayor decided to run for another office, his record would be on full display for all Hoosiers to carefully scrutinize," said Pete Seat, an Indiana Republican Party spokesman.
Former U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh said last month that he wouldn't run for the Democratic nomination for governor, and U.S. Rep. Baron Hill, who was unseated in last year's election, said he doesn't expect to run.
Potential Democratic gubernatorial candidates include U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly and former U.S. Rep. Brad Ellsworth. Former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg has also not ruled out a potential campaign.
Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman announced in December that she would not run for governor.
Republicans are now awaiting a decision from U.S. Rep. Mike Pence on whether he'll run. Pence, who stepped down from his position as the No. 3 leader among House Republicans after the November election, is the most prominent Republican discussed as a gubernatorial candidate.
Weinzapfel said he believes Democrats can defeat Pence.
"Mike Pence has literally thousands of votes as a member of Congress that he will have to defend. I don't think there is an inevitability to Mike Pence being the next governor of the state of Indiana. I think a Democrat stands a very good shot in 2012," he said.
The Courier & Press reported that Weinzapfel has about $750,000 in campaign cash that he could either donate to other candidates or keep socked away in case he wants to return to politics.