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The Campaign Waiting for Mitch Daniels

By Erin McPike - April 29, 2011

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In other words, there's a kitchen cabinet of political advisers who haven't exactly been twiddling their thumbs lately but who have been eager for a campaign to take shape. And in it, the Bush connections are prevalent. That raises another issue: fundraising. Between his own experience in politics, the Bush team whispering that they hope he runs, and the potential support of Haley Barbour, Daniels has a vast fundraising network.

On top of that, a longtime Indiana and national Republican operative who served in Vice President Cheney's office and was vice president of the 2008 GOP convention, Mel Raines, is now vice president of event operations for the 2012 Super Bowl, which will take place in February in Indianapolis. Those connections and the traffic to the city also may be fruitful for Daniels.

Then come the early nominating states, where Daniels has been talking to some key figures, albeit in an under-the-radar kind of way. He's kept in touch with former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, whom he's known for decades, and he recently spoke with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad about education policy.

One of the most prominent names in Iowa GOP politics, attorney Doug Gross, has been meeting methodically with all of the 2012 Republican contenders and hasn't picked one to support yet. He was with Mitt Romney four years ago but is unlikely to return. He's long thought highly of Daniels and has told him to make sure he calls him as soon as he figures out his plans.

And in New Hampshire, strategist Mike Dennehy is awaiting Daniels' decision, too. Dennehy worked for both of Arizona Sen. John McCain's campaigns and had signed on with Haley Barbour in March. But he had talked with other operations before choosing the now-defunct Barbour team and told RealClearPolitics this week after Barbour's exit that he hopes Daniels runs.

Also in the Granite State, Sununu's sons Michael and James, and Jamie Burnett, are partners in the Concord-based Profile Strategy Group. Burnett was Mitt Romney's New Hampshire political director in 2008, but the trio is not working for a presidential candidate now and is open to advising a campaign this cycle. Michael Sununu has had long ties to some of Daniels' advisers, and they indicated they could support Daniels.

"Mitch Daniels is a serious and credible candidate that would have an immediate impact on the race if he chooses to run," Burnett said.

A Daniels candidacy could have a dramatic effect on the early state dynamic. For one thing, while the picture in Iowa is murky now as some of the leading candidates look to skip the state, Daniels as a Midwestern governor may try to compete there. That could force candidates like Romney and Huntsman to spend some money there so other candidates have to divert more resources to that state, as well.

More than anything, it could set up an epic four-way showdown in New Hampshire between Romney, Huntsman, Daniels and Tim Pawlenty, and shift the focus squarely onto that state.

A rap on Daniels is that he hasn't reached out much to the early states or built the groundwork for a presidential campaign, although it seems that there are strategists in both states willing to help. Instead, Daniels focused on getting his record to look just the way he wanted it to use as a trump card in a potential campaign.

So the next time Daniels says he hasn't been doing the things he needs to do in order to launch a White House bid, it's probably best not to believe him. He could still wind up not running, but he has set himself up to do so if he gives his advisers the nod.

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

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