Mitch Daniels Makes His 2011 Beltway Debut

Mitch Daniels Makes His 2011 Beltway Debut

By Erin McPike - January 6, 2011

In Washington D.C. on Wednesday to collect a new award for fiscal responsibility, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels made the rounds as he ponders a presidential bid.

Daniels was in town to give a speech at the inaugural "Fiscy" awards, which honored him along with Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan and North Dakota Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad for demonstrating leadership over fiscal discipline in their government roles. But the Hoosier held several off-the-record political meetings and appeared on MSNBC and CNN in a continuing cat-and-mouse game with the press as he builds his national name recognition in advance of a potential bid.

He began the day with a glowing profile on the front page of the business section of the New York Times about his stewardship of the Indiana economy during his tenure as governor.

Daniels was the subject of several other items on the New York Times' Web site throughout the day, including one post detailing the fiscal problems he may have to address if he does launch a national campaign.

The Times' post suggested that the transition of a budget surplus to a deficit during the first term of George W. Bush's administration when Daniels was budget director deserves some explanation. Answering on CNN Wednesday afternoon, the governor largely blamed the burst of the dotcom bubble. Pushed on the doubling of the debt and the increasing size of government during the six years of both a Republican White House and the GOP Congress, Daniels explained, "Some of my biggest fights were with members of my own party."

Daniels also argued, in a preview of the defense he'd likely have to employ should he run for president, that the Bush administration's budgetary decisions were far better than the ones made during the last two years under Obama. "The numbers show it," he said.

On MSNBC Daniels was drawn into a battle over tax policy and his unwillingness to sign a pledge to oppose any and all tax increases. He pointed out that in Indiana as governor he implemented a rebalancing of taxes that raised the sales tax while reducing property taxes dramatically.

And all of this came just a few days after another reminder that his family is concerned about the media intrusion that comes along with a presidential bid, and his concern for his family -- a detail that led some media outlets to conclude that he doesn't sound all that interested in the White House. The back-and-forth continues to keep the political class buzzing.

During the awards presentation, both Ryan and Conrad heaped praise on Daniels, with Conrad - a Democrat - turning to Daniels and saying, "I admire your leadership. We need more of that in the country, and we certainly need it here in this town."

For his part, Ryan boasted Daniels is a leader who has provided an example of how to get a state into fiscal health. "This is a guy who can show other states what it's going to take," Ryan said.

In his own remarks, Daniels offered hints of what might show up in a Republican presidential primary stump speech - providing some humor in an otherwise dry environment when he began with a series of jokes about his own cheapness.

Speaking about the tax system, Daniels emphasized the importance of economic growth and the need for tax reform, stressing that serious changes will be the only way to fix the nation's economic woes, rather than "quick, easy fixes."

Republican sources in Indiana say Daniels is about 75 percent of the way in for a presidential run. The last 25 percent of his decision will come during the next four months of the Indiana legislative session, when he will try to pass education reform and a budget. 

It the meantime, however, Politico reported this morning that Daniels has accepted an in invitation to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference on February 11 - yet another sign he's thinking very seriously about a bid for the White House in 2012.

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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