The Campaign Waiting for Mitch Daniels

The Campaign Waiting for Mitch Daniels

By Erin McPike - April 29, 2011

After Indiana's legislature gavels to a close today, Mitch Daniels will enter the final phase of his decision-making process about whether to run for the presidency in 2012. But unlike some of the contenders who decided against a run in part because it takes a lot to build one from scratch, Daniels could stroll several blocks out of his Statehouse office, flip on the light switch and the campaign would be right there waiting for him (much like Jon Huntsman will have in Washington when he gets home this weekend).

With more than three decades in politics behind him, the governor has done more than develop a Rolodex he could deploy for fundraising, as most point out. The campaign operative in him also has built an organization ready to go whenever he tells them to -- and the media doesn't seem to know it yet. For the past year, he's been playing its members like piano keys as he orchestrates his national rollout.

Anthony Dolan, the chief speechwriter for the entire Reagan presidency, knows Daniels well from the time they worked together and explained, "Mitch has always been a marvel with the news dynamic." He added, "A year ago people were saying ‘Mitch who' and then comes a rollout with more elaborate choreography than a Busby Berkley musical -- we haven't seen the synchronized swimming yet, but I'm sure it's coming."

Indeed, at the same time Daniels has ruminated publicly about whether or not to run -- as Dolan put it, "for a while there the Daniels speculation was crowding out the royal wedding" -- his team also has carefully blocked out time for national reporters to descend on Indiana to profile him, one at a time. And the intrigue has grown.

In January, just before he was to appear in the Beltway to collect an award for fiscal responsibility, the New York Times' Pulitzer-winning economic writer David Leonhardt chatted with Daniels for a story that led the Business section of the Times. In late February, the Wall Street Journal's Neil King trekked along with Daniels for a profile that included a front-page photo of him on his Harley. And in April, Daniels got the front-page treatment from Dan Balz of the Washington Post.

That is to say nothing of all of the other lesser media organizations that have shown plenty of interest when it comes to Daniels -- and that comes at a time when all of the other candidates in the mix would be so lucky as to get a national profile introducing them to the electorate rather than stories that nitpick at all of their flaws.

Think Daniels is too short, too bald and too boring to be president? His Indiana cheerleaders had a retort almost a year ago: President Obama is the picture of excitement, as are some of the potential Republican contenders, and Daniels creates a good contrast -- but he does ride motorcyles. Well, he's a policy wonk and he may be a good political operative, but is he a good politician? Answer: When would you like to come to Indiana and see him campaign for the Republicans running for the Indiana House? We've got a couple of events next week.

And all of that is even before team Daniels has really gone on the offensive, but that's about to change. Starting Saturday, the Daniels administration plans to begin a promotional blitz to let people know what they accomplished in the four-month legislative session this year.

Of course, all the glowing coverage in the world would be for naught without a campaign structure. It just so happens that Indianapolis is conveniently set up for such a thing.

When Daniels walks out of the Statehouse, he has to walk a mere two blocks down West Market Street and he'll find himself in the ornate, private Columbia Club on Monument Circle. His friends, aides and associates can often be found there trying to stay out of earshot when they see a state lobbyist, and out-of-town guests are wined and dined there. It's also one of their choice locations for intimate, high-dollar fundraising events.

From there, Daniels would have to walk to the other side of the circle and then a block-and-a-half down South Meridian Street to the state GOP headquarters, which is in a large building connected to the city's Hard Rock Café.

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

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