As the mid-term elections bear down on us in the next month, winds of change seem to be in the air with polls indicating that incumbents all across the country may have trouble holding onto their elected posts. Emboldened by this circumstance, many Republicans are beginning to cast their gaze forward with dreams about who might be thrust forward to challenge President Obama in 2012. And, as with the Congressional races of 2010, Indiana is finding itself moving toward the spotlight in the Presidential arena as rumors continue to swirl that our Governor may be a strong candidate for the Republican nomination in two years. Could Mitch Daniels really extend his political perch from the State House to the White House? His strong political background and heavy conservative support suggest that it may be a strong possibility.
Mitch Daniels was born in Pennsylvania (1949) but moved to Indiana with his family while he was still in elementary school. He jumped into the political fold early, latching on as an intern with Indy mayor Richard Lugar in the early seventies, and then following Lugar as a staffer through re-election and a move to the U..S Senate. He also has strong Republican ties, having served as Ronald Reagan’s chief political advisor in 1985. Daniels then parlayed his political success into heady business positions in Indianapolis, including senior leadership positions at drug giant Eli Lilly.
However, the political arena continued to beckon Daniels and he became President George W. Bush’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget, a post from which he launched his gubernatorial campaign in 2004. Overcoming his darkhorse status, Daniels defeated incumbent Joe Kernan and took office the next year. Focused on government budget cuts, Daniels faced some initial discontent from Hoosiers as he privatized toll roads and capitulated to the modern world by adopting Daylight Savings Time for the first time for the majority of the State. However, Daniels’ fiscal conservatism and focus on infrastructure, thus creating jobs, has earned him fairly high approval ratings for the majority of his administration, and he easily won re-election in 2008, defeating Democrat challenger Jill Long Thompson.
Governor Daniels’ budgetary savvy and leadership background have apparently caught the eye of leaders within the GOP, as evidenced by the swirling rumors regarding his Presidential aspirations. Although Daniels has generally demurred when asked about such plans, he has done little to outright squash the talk, and the prevailing political undercurrent in the city certainly suggests that he is lining up his ducks for a shot at the White House in 2012. Indeed, his recent intimate parties with Republican heavyweights can only be viewed as so much audition material: Daniels’ auditioning for the part of big-time candidate, and the invitees auditioning for Daniel’s eventual kitchen cabinet.
Whether or not Governor Mitch Daniels ultimately wins the Republican Presidential nomination and becomes the first Hoosier Commander-in-Chief since Benjamin Harrison, the speculation and concomitant focus does nothing but strengthen Indiana’s (and Indianapolis’) growing importance on the national political landscape. Especially if Hoosiers help to turn the tide in Congress this Fall, all eyes will surely remain firmly focused on the Circle City to see if our Governor can re-join his statesmen in Washington, this time in the catbird seat.