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Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels decides not to run for president

Gov. Mitch Daniels says he won't seek the Republican nomination, prompting more concern among GOP leaders about the strength of the party's candidates.

May 23, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli and Tom Hamburger, Washington Bureau
  • Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels announced he won't seek the Republican nomination for president.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels announced he won't seek the Republican… (Terrence Antonio James,…)

Reporting from Washington and Indianapolis — The Republican field in the 2012 presidential race narrowed as another establishment favorite opted against a run and prompted a new bout of hand-wringing among GOP figures worried about the strength of the confirmed candidates.

With Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels officially out, the race now pits front-runner and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney against a crop of challengers, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and lesser-knowns such as former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Still pondering bids are former Utah governor and ambassador to China Jon Huntsman and "tea party" favorites Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

Daniels, a second-term governor who is popular with fiscal conservatives, announced in an email to supporters early Sunday that the "wishes of my family" drove his decision not to seek the GOP nomination.

"If you feel that this was a non-courageous or unpatriotic decision, I understand and will not attempt to persuade you otherwise. I only hope that you will accept my sincerity in the judgment I reached," Daniels wrote.

One immediate beneficiary was Romney, who lost a competitor who could have taken advantage of decades-long connections among Republican leaders to raise substantial sums of money. Romney alone among the confirmed candidates has an extensive fundraising base and millions of dollars of his own money to spare on a campaign. Another Republican who might have challenged Romney on the money front, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, earlier took himself out of contention.

"This nomination is now Romney's to lose," said Scott Reed, a Republican strategist who had been advising Barbour.

Daniels' decision also opens a vacuum in the competition to be the anti-Romney, a position that Pawlenty sought to ensure for himself by echoing Daniels' economic positions in a statement Sunday congratulating the Indiana governor on his decision. Romney has worked to overcome opposition for several reasons, among them his support of state healthcare legislation similar to the new national law despised by GOP activists.

Pawlenty, who has been actively courting party loyalists for months, formally launches his campaign Monday in Iowa, home of the leadoff caucuses. On Sunday, he pledged in an announcement preview posted on YouTube to speak candidly as he challenges President Obama. Though he has yet to draw much support among voters, advisors saw opportunity in the Daniels news.

"Gov. Pawlenty and Gov. Daniels would have been competing for much of the same space, both geographically and ideologically," said former Rep. Vin Weber of Minnesota, who is advising Pawlenty.

Gingrich, appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation" to buttress his campaign after a stumbling start, said Daniels would have been one of the "front-runners from Day One" had he run. Gingrich sought to undo damage he did one week earlier, when he called the House GOP's Medicare plan "right-wing social engineering" and seemed to endorse a health insurance mandate, which has been an anchor on Romney's candidacy.

"The campaign looked very, very alive if you were in Iowa," Gingrich said.

Concern about the field has been a constant in this election cycle, and it surfaced Sunday as well.

"We have about 2 million activists across the country, and frankly, we're disappointed," former House Majority Leader Dick Armey told CNN on Sunday. "Now obviously we have to start looking."

He offered Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, author of the Medicare plan disparaged by Gingrich, as an alternative, but Ryan told NBC's David Gregory on "Meet The Press" on Sunday that he too would stay out of the race.

"I'm not running for president. You never know what opportunities present themselves way down the road. I'm not talking about [running] right now," he said.

Time is running short even if such a candidate would emerge. No Republican in the modern era has started forming a presidential campaign this late in the game and gone on to win the nomination.

A top Republican party official, who asked not to be identified because his position requires neutrality, said Daniels' decision would increase pressure on Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey to give the race a second look. Both have said they were not interested in running.

That pressure could also affect the timing for the three high-profile candidates still openly considering the race. Bachmann, who has made repeated trips to key states that vote early in the nominating process, has said she will make her plans known soon. Huntsman made several well-publicized stops last week in New Hampshire, site of the first primary. Palin said last week she still has "fire in the belly," but she appears far from ready to enter the race.

Some veterans of primary seasons suggested that much of the concern about the field would ebb as the primaries and caucuses near.

"You're always waiting for the next great candidate, only to discover that the next great candidate is already there," said Fred Malek, a longtime Republican party fundraiser. "There may be some Republicans who are waiting for a white knight to emerge. I think it's going to be a long wait. I think the field is largely complete, and I think the field is very good."

Memoli reported from Washington and Hamburger from Indianapolis.

Melanie Mason and Paul West contributed to this report.

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