Republican 2012 Field Narrows as Mitch Daniels Says He Won’t Run

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. Photographer: Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images

Potential options for Republicans seeking to unseat President Barack Obama in 2012 narrowed as Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, a favorite of his party’s establishment, said he wouldn’t seek the nomination.

Daniels, 62, whose deficit-fighting credentials and folksy manner caused some Republican officials to tout his prospects for national appeal, informed his inner circle of his decision late yesterday.

“I was able to resolve every competing interest but one, but that, the interest and wishes of my family, is the most important consideration of all,” the two-term governor wrote in a statement e-mailed to supporters early today.

Daniels became the fourth high-profile Republican to decide to forego a presidential candidacy, leaving party’s nomination contest still in flux less than nine months before the first balloting is set to begin.

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. -- two of the likely candidates who potentially benefit from the absence of Daniels in the race -- issued statements today praising him, with an eye to absorbing some of his supporters.

‘Intellectual Powerhouse’

Pawlenty said that while Daniels “may not be running, he is an intellectual powerhouse and will continue to play a leading role in the party’s politics and the nation’s policies.

Pawlenty also said “Mitch and I agree that America’s out-of-control national debt is a threat to our nation’s future, and that the next president must restore fiscal responsibility in Washington.”

Pawlenty is scheduled to formally announce the start of his presidential campaign at an event tomorrow in Iowa, where the caucuses that will kick off the Republican race are scheduled for Feb. 6.

Huntsman said Daniels “will be missed in this presidential debate, but his message about the most immediate threat facing our nation -- the massive debt -- will not go unheard.’”

Huntsman returned last month from China after resigning as the U.S. ambassador there and has been gearing up for an expected presidential race. He is wrapping up a five-day swing through New Hampshire, the state that traditionally holds the nation’s first presidential primary.

Former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts also is moving toward a presidential run and Daniels would have vied for many of the same voters as him.

Other Announcements

The announcement from Daniels follows similar decisions to stay on the sidelines by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, real estate magnate Donald Trump, and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour.

“If I have disappointed you, I will always be sorry,” wrote Daniels, who was a budget director for President George W. Bush. “I only hope that you will accept my sincerity in the judgment I reached.”

He encouraged supporters to “stay in touch” on ways “an obscure Midwestern governor might make a constructive contribution to the rebuilding of our economy and our republic.”

As a presidential candidate, Daniels would have faced questions about statements he has made that have drawn the ire of opponents of abortion rights and other issues that motivate social conservatives. In a 2010 interview, he told the Weekly Standard that the next president “would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues until the economic crisis is resolved.”

Low Poll Support

National polls of Republican-leaning voters showed Daniels barely registering as a presidential candidate, typically receiving 3 or fewer percentage points of support.

Still, his record as a governor on fiscal issues attracted the attention of other leading Republican officials.

On his first day as governor in 2005, Daniels issued an executive order abolishing collective bargaining for state workers, and he focused on pushing for efficiencies in government operations.

His moves included the 2006 lease to private contractors of the Indiana Toll Road for $3.85 billion, the largest such transportation transaction nationwide. The road stretches across the length of northern Indiana.

Daniels’ victory in Indiana’s 2004 gubernatorial race was his first bid for elected office. While he headed Bush’s Office of Management and Budget, the president nicknamed him “the Blade” for his budget-cutting prowess. He also served as a senior adviser to President Ronald Reagan and as a chief of staff to Senator Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican.

In 2008, Daniels won re-election with 58 percent of the vote, even as Obama carried Indiana on his way to winning the presidency. Obama was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since then-President Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Business Background

Daniels, a Pennsylvania native, has also worked as the chief executive officer of the Hudson Institute and as a senior executive of Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly & Co., whose products include the antidepressant Prozac.

He earned a bachelor’s degree from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University in 1971 and his law degree from Georgetown University in 1979. He and his wife, Cheri, have four daughters.

The couple divorced in 1994, and Daniels’ wife moved to California and remarried. After that marriage ended, she returned to Indiana and the couple remarried in 1997.

‘Loss for Republicans’

Indiana Democrats issued a statement today saying Daniels’ decision “is a loss for Republicans,” and that “Daniels would have brought a serious tone to a GOP field that’s thus far been characterized by silliness and distraction.”

Among well-known Republicans, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas have both formally announced their candidacies. Romney, who has led in some early polls, has filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to raise money for a potential bid, as has former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

Other potential candidates include former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, both favorites of the Tea Party movement.

Herman Cain, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Godfather’s Pizza Inc., and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson also have declared their candidacies. And former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer, a Democrat-turned-Republican, has formed an exploratory committee.

-- Editors: Don Frederick, Ann Hughey.

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