Wonktastic: The rise of Mitch Daniels

Wonks have long revered Mr Daniels. Since February, when he said he would consider a presidential run, others have started to as well. The Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine, published a glowing profile in June. At Indiana’s Republican convention he was greeted by chants of “Run, Mitch, run!” Mr Daniels is an interesting model. But whether national Republicans will embrace him is less clear.

“I never expected to go into politics,” he explains. Born in Pennsylvania and weaned in the South, he moved to Indiana at the age of ten before a scholarship took him off to Princeton. Over the years he has worked for Richard Lugar, Indiana’s respected and moderate senior senator, served as Ronald Reagan’s budget director, run North American operations for Eli Lilly, a big pharmaceuticals firm, and, from 2001 to 2003, served as George Bush’s budget director. To these jobs he brought a decidedly dorky passion: a reverence for restraint and efficacy. This pervades his life. At 61, he runs or swims almost every day. He subsists, it seems, largely on oatmeal. On a recent shopping trip his credit card was declined for “unusual activity”. He is, in short, just the kind of man to relish fixing a broken state—or country.

In 2003 Mr Daniels announced that he would run for governor. Democrats knew he was intelligent. To their horror, he turned out to be likeable too. Sarah Palin is strident and Mitt Romney disconcertingly perfect. Mr Daniels is at ease, an unusual politician who does not seem like one. He criss-crossed the state in an RV decorated with his slogan, “My Man Mitch”, and soon covered with signatures.