Is there room for another conservative Republican executive in the 2012 sweepstakes? Politico’s Jonathan Martin reports that Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who turned down an opportunity to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Evan Bayh, has stopped denying interest in the top job. That could mean a serious bid from the man who could be called the Un-Obama:
After months of Shermanesque denials, Indiana GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels’ admission that he’s now willing to consider a White House run has roused his long-standing, if unofficial, fan club.
Republican admirers from Washington, Indiana and elsewhere, hoping to encourage their favorite Hoosier, are out in force to make the case that a balding, blunt, unprepossessing, listed-at-5-foot-7 policy wonk would be a strong contender to take on President Barack Obama. Their shorthand is that he’s the un-Obama. If the country has soured on a charismatic orator who brought glamour but little executive experience to the presidency, the thinking goes, then Daniels could provide the antidote. …
At 60, Daniels’s résumé is exhaustive: He’s a Princeton-educated former Senate chief of staff-turned political operative-turned think tank chief-turned Fortune 500 executive-turned White House budget director-turned two-term governor.
And since winning the governorship in 2004, he has practiced the sort of fiscal conservatism that he preached as “The Blade” during his tenure as President George W. Bush’s head of the Office of Management and Budget.
“Mitch is the real thing,” said Nancy Dorn, his deputy at OMB and now the head of General Electric Co.’s Washington office. “He’s a true fiscal conservative.”
He has cut spending, cut taxes, leased the state’s toll road to a private company for billions and expanded health insurance and prescription drug access in a market-friendly way. The result is an approval rating of 70 percent, according to one recent survey, placing him among the country’s most popular governors.
Undoubtedly, Republicans need to offer someone from outside of Washington in a season of discontent with Beltway business as usual. The strongest candidates will be former governors like Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, and perhaps Haley Barbour. Mitch Daniels may have the strongest resume from among them, as Martin details, and perhaps also the most unequivocally conservative track record as an executive.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that Daniels is the Un-Obama also in the charisma department. He has a strong grasp of policy, but as with most policy wonks, has trouble when it comes to electrifying the masses from the stump. That hasn’t hindered him in Indiana, much like a similar problem didn’t keep Tommy Thompson from multiple statewide wins in Wisconsin. However, on the national stage, it could prove to be an obstacle, as voters like to identify personally with presidential candidates.
Or, perhaps not. Barack Obama was one of the most charismatic candidates since Bill Clinton, but his performance in office has been rated as increasingly poor by the voters. An Un-Obama may be the right prescription in 2012 — a man with broad experience in governing and a solid track record in reducing government. Competence may beat charm after three years of Hope and Change. At the least, a Daniels primary campaign will force Republicans to adhere to fiscal conservatism and economic liberty as the main principles driving the election.