May 23 (Bloomberg) -- Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels became the latest Republican to pass on the chance to challenge President Barack Obama in 2012, a decision seen as helping a trio of contenders gearing up for the race.
Daniels, 62, cited family considerations yesterday in his decision to skip the contest and further narrow the prospective Republican field.
Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor heading toward a second White House bid, will be boosted by the development, strategists said, as will former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman Jr., a former Utah governor and U.S. ambassador to China.
“For Mitt Romney, the prospect of another big fundraising gorilla in the race was daunting and that problem is removed now,” said Mike Murphy, a Republican strategist unaffiliated with any of the potential candidates. “For Pawlenty and Huntsman, there’s more room for them to break out. So there is good news for everyone in this.”
Huntsman said the decision by Daniels won’t affect whether he formally enters the race, while acknowledging it creates political opportunities for him.
“It probably does free up some fence-sitters who were waiting for his decision on the funding side, on the organizing side” Huntsman told Bloomberg News in Franklin, New Hampshire. “I think that part is very real.”
Daniels became the fourth major potential Republican candidate in recent weeks to decide to forego a presidential bid, leaving party’s nomination contest still in flux less than nine months before the first balloting is set to begin.
“I’m surprised by the number of people who, like me, are uncommitted,” said Ovide Lamontagne, a New Hampshire Republican leader. “The vast majority of activists are undecided.”
The slaying of Osama bin Laden that Obama authorized in a hideout in Pakistan earlier this month boosted the president’s political standing in most polls. Still, a U.S. economy that continues to struggle amid a 9 percent unemployment rate last month leaves him vulnerable to a strong Republican challenge.
Daniels, whose deficit-fighting credentials and folksy manner caused some Republican officials to tout his chances for national appeal, could have offered an antidote to Obama: an unflashy budget-cutter versus a polished campaigner.
“I was able to resolve every competing interest but one,” Daniels said in a statement on his decision not to run. “The interest and wishes of my family is the most important consideration of all.”
Murphy cautioned against placing too much emphasis on the absence of Daniels, a two-term governor. “Daniels was hypothetical candidate, so it only changes the hypothetical world, not the real one,” he said.
Pawlenty and Huntsman yesterday praised Daniels, with an eye to absorbing some of his supporters.
“He is an intellectual powerhouse and will continue to play a leading role in the party’s politics and the nation’s policies,” Pawlenty said in a statement. “Mitch and I agree that America’s out-of-control national debt is a threat to our nation’s future.”
Pawlenty is scheduled to formally announce his presidential campaign today in Iowa, where the caucuses that will kick off the Republican race are scheduled for Feb. 6.
New Hampshire Visit
Huntsman, who was concluding a five-day swing through New Hampshire, said Daniels would have added “enormously to whole discussion about debt.”
Huntsman added: “His voice will probably be missed.”
The announcement by 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.”
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 on fiscal issues attracted the attention of 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.
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.
Daniels and his wife, Cheri, have four daughters. The couple divorced in 1994 and Cheri Daniels moved to California where she remarried. After that marriage ended, she returned to Indiana and the couple remarried in 1997.
Indiana Democrats issued a statement yesterday 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
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva in Washington at email@example.com.