By MAGGIE HABERMAN & JENNIFER EPSTEIN 5/22/11 1:31 AM EDT Updated: 5/22/11 7:21 AM EDT
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels told supporters in an email early Sunday that he will not run for president in 2012, a decision he said ultimately came down to his family's reticence about a campaign.
The announcement by the former Office of Management and Budget director and favorite of much of the Republican establishment will again roil the unsettled GOP field—and likely intensify efforts to convince another major candidate to join the race, such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
"The following is from Governor Mitch Daniels…." the email began.
“I hope this reaches you before the public news does," Daniels wrote. "If so, please respect my confidence for the short time until I can make it known to all."
"The counsel and encouragement I received from important citizens like you caused me to think very deeply about becoming a national candidate. In the end, I was able to resolve every competing consideration but one, but that, the interests and wishes of my family, is the most important consideration of all. If I have disappointed you, I will always be sorry."
Daniels, who had deep fundraising ties from his time in the Bush administration and his own years in Washington, went on: "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," he wrote.
"Many thanks for your help and input during this period of reflection. Please stay in touch if you see ways in which an obscure Midwestern governor might make a constructive contribution to the rebuilding of our economy and our Republic.”
The email, which went to a list of supporters but not the Indiana GOP's broader email list, was unusual —pols who bow out of campaigns rarely choose to announce it just after midnight on a Saturday.
But it was a reminder that Daniels has always tended to march to the beat of his own political drum, keep his own counsel and do things his own way.
Daniels's wife, Cheri, was widely known to be concerned about the impact a campaign would have on their lives, which have followed an unusual path. Cheri Daniels left her husband and their four young daughters in 1993, married a former sweetheart in California, then returned and remarried Daniels - a set of circumstances that the pair would be unable to avoid talking about in the crucible of a campaign.
In a statement to the Indianapolis Star about his decision, he highlighted the role his family played in his decision. "On matters affecting us all, our family constitution gives a veto to the women’s caucus, and there is no override provision. Simply put, I find myself caught between two duties. I love my country; I love my family more," he said.
He also defended his wife to the paper, saying, "The notion that Cheri ever did or would ‘abandon’ her girls or parental duty is the reverse of the truth and absurd to anyone who knows her, as I do, to be the best mother any daughter ever had."
The decision by Daniels, which he stretched on for a month past the close of the Indiana legislative session, ends a season of dithering about his 2012 intentions. His Hamlet-of-the-Heartland contortions about whether to run, combined with public statements showing something less than a fire in the belly, had started to make even his supporters uncomfortable.
The late-night move ensures Daniels's decision will be the focus of the Sunday morning talk shows - as opposed to speculation about whether he would pull the trigger on a campaign.
It also comes as Daniels is set to make a return trip to Washington, D.C. on Wednesday to headline a fundraiser for the committee where he once served as a top staffer, the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Daniels's departure from the race presents a challenge to Republican elites, many of whom are less than enthralled with the current choices in a field that includes Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain and, likely, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who's making his first New Hampshire sojourn and is being met with high hopes by some Republican leaders, is the latest likely entrant to the slow-forming race.
"Mitch Daniels will be missed in this presidential debate, but his message about the most immediate threat facing our nation -- this massive debt -- will not go unheard," said Huntsman in a statement to POLITICO early Sunday.
Indeed, Daniels's main call to arms was about fixing the nation's budget woes - he made a splash at the conservative confab CPAC in February when he described the United States' growing debt burden as the new "red menace."
In bowing out, Daniels joined Mike Huckabee and reality tv star and developer Donald Trump, both of whom announced they would not run in the past week. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a close Daniels friend who'd told the Indiana governor he should consider the race, also dropped out in recent weeks.
Daniels's decision would seem on the surface to benefit Pawlenty in Iowa, where he's looking to come in with solid numbers in the caucuses, and Huntsman in New Hampshire, where the former Utah governor is expected to play hard if he runs. But it also is ultimately positive for Romney, who is increasingly able to cast himself as a stronger frontrunner; his aides recently reported raising $10 million in a single fundraising "call day" from Nevada.
Still, a group of Iowa donors is set to travel to New Jersey on May 31 to meet with Gov. Chris Christie in the hopes of getting him to join the race.
Despite the build-up surrounding Daniels, he carried some baggage in a prospective campaign.
Daniels suggested last year that Republicans choose to focus on combating the country s fiscal problems before turning to issues like abortion and gay marriage. The next president, he said, would need to call for a “truce on the so-called social issues.”
The notion of a truce irked social conservatives, but attracted the attention of more moderate Republicans hoping for a candidate who could put on a good showing against President Barack Obama in 2012.
Nonetheless, in time, Daniels inched away from his proposal, by signing a bill into law earlier this month which imposed some of the nation s strictest restrictions on abortions and making Indiana the first state to stop funding Planned Parenthood.
Yet for many, Daniels figured as an ideal potential candidate: Despite his tenure as the George W. Bush's budget director, a post which Democrats would have used against him, he had budget-cutting chops of his own during two terms as Indiana's chief executive.
Daniels had made clear all along that there were really only five votes that mattered for him - his wife, and their four grown daughters.
Cheri Daniels’s reticence was well-documented. The governor told POLITICO in February that it was “safe to say” that she didn’t welcome the prospect of him running. In late March, she told the Indianapolis Star that if her husband ends up staying out of the race, the impact of a campaign on the family would “definitely be a reason.”
She shunned the spotlight for much of her husband's tenure. Her star turn at a state GOP dinner two weeks ago was, sources told POLITICO, something of a testing-the-waters appearance to see how she fared. She was well-received, but the appearance prompted a fresh round of news accounts and reporters' questions about their marital history.
Talking to reporters after the state GOP dinner, Cheri Daniels said that she wasn’t the only one in the family uncertain about agreeing to go under the microscope of a presidential campaign. "It’s not just me," she said. "I have four daughters and I have three sons-in-law and everybody has a voice.”
Speaking at the same event, her husband wasn’t much clearer about his plans. ”This whole business of running for national office I’m not saying I won’t do it,” he said. ”My friends know it’s never been any intention of mine. I’d like to go to some quiet place where nobody could find me. Like Al Gore’s cable network.”
Daniels, 62, is in his second term as Indiana governor. First elected in 2004 after spending two and a half years in the Bush administration as OMB director, Daniels built a reputation as a politician whose interests, first and foremost, are fiscal.
As governor, he worked to cut spending and balance the state’s budget, though at OMB he oversaw the shift from annual budget surpluses to a deficit of $400 billion as the Bush administration cut taxes and ramped up spending for the Iraq war.