Republican Mitch Daniels has repeatedly insisted that his 2008 run for a second term
as Indiana’s governor was his last election and that he’s not interested in the "savagery" of a national campaign.
But like it or not, Daniels’ name is being dropped in conservative GOP circles as someone to watch in 2012. Many say
Daniels is just what the battered GOP needs, a blend of conservative values, cool demeanor and fiscal discipline.
"Mitch has been steady to the cause, he’s stayed principled," said Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican
National Committee. "The nation is going to recognize him."
Some political observers say Daniels is as
good a bet as any for a national party reeling from Democrats’ solid victory last year and the recent stumbles of former vice
presidential nominee Sarah Palin and two other rising GOP stars — South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Nevada Sen. John
Palin resigned as Alaska’s governor abruptly in July. Sanford and Ensign admitted extramarital affairs.
Another person often mentioned as a contender, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, was widely panned after he delivered the national
GOP response to Obama’s first address to Congress in February.
Given the turmoil, Daniels may not stay on the sidelines,
said John Pitney Jr., a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College in California.
"If you look at
the list of presidents who said they weren’t going to run for president, it’s a long list," he said.
millionaire governor is equally at home in Washington and Indiana after serving as President George W. Bush’s budget director
and an adviser to President Ronald Reagan. He earned a reputation in Washington as the "blade" for his efforts to
promote fiscal responsibility in Congress and carried that to Indiana, where he took over a state with a $800 million deficit
and worked with lawmakers to pass a balanced budget in his first year. The state’s fiscal year ended June 30 with a $1.3 billion
Republican observers believe his track record in Indiana would resonate with voters weary of billions
in federal bailouts for banks and the auto industry, and record federal red ink.
"First of all he’s a successful
governor. Secondly, he is deeply informed on the subject about which deep information is now particularly needed, and that
is budgeting," said conservative commentator George Will. "Third, he has an all-purpose general intelligence, and
fourth, he is funny. He is a witty man and a graceful writer."
Daniels is popular with voters, winning Indiana
easily in a year in which Barack Obama gave Democrats their first presidential victory in the state in 40 years. And he doesn’t
hesitate to speak his mind, criticizing his own party for being too placid and putting politics above policy and saying the
GOP needs to get in touch with average citizens — something he excels at.
He’s even taken jabs at fellow
baby boomers, telling a Butler University commencement crowd, "We were pampered in ways no children in human history
would recognize" and chastising his generation for fiscal irresponsibility.
The speech prompted conservative
columnist Bill Kristol to ask whether the nation is "ready to elect a boomer president who disdains his own generation,
and urges younger Americans to reject boomer vanities and self-indulgence in the name of freedom and greatness."
Daniels’ businesslike approach to state government — including a highly criticized move to privatize many state welfare
eligibility functions and a 75-year lease of the Indiana Toll Road to a foreign consortium — has caught the eyes of
other states looking for savings and revenue-generating ideas.
His philosophies and potential appeal to the GOP
have been the focus of articles in National Review magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times and The Washington Post.
He was an hour-long guest on C-SPAN, and delivered a weekly radio address for the GOP, criticizing Obama’s "cap and trade"
energy policy as too costly.
Daniels says he didn’t seek out the attention and attributes the speculation about
a White House run in part to "how slim the pickin’s are" among potential GOP contenders. He says he wouldn’t inflict
the intensity of a national campaign on his wife, Cheri, and four grown daughters.
"To me the level of not
just scrutiny, but savagery is the word that comes to mind, that has attached itself to national politics is pretty sobering,"
Daniels told The Associated Press. "I mean, we’ve not just seen people’s own personal backgrounds but their spouses and
even their children get dragged into this."
If Daniels does change his mind, he’ll have an uphill battle.
Richard Parker, a professor of public policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, said he considered
Daniels in the "junior varsity" among potential contenders, behind former governors Mitt Romney of Massachusetts,
Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Alaska’s Palin. He said Daniels’ name recognition even among registered Republicans is probably
10 percent or less.
Daniels would need to make fundraising appearances around the country and meet with the "elite
press" in Washington and New York City, Parker said. He also would have to consider some of the steps taken by Minnesota
Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who was on John McCain’s vice presidential short list in 2008. Pawlenty is headlining GOP fundraisers,
has taken an influential job at the Republican Governors Association and is mulling his own political action committee.
Neil Pickett, a former aide to Daniels who also worked with him at the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co., said
he believes Daniels doesn’t intend to run for the White House, but cares very much about the party.
is some kind of enormous draft movement that he’s the right person for the right time, I think he will take that very seriously,"