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Will Mitch Daniels Run? He Left No Obvious Clues At Washington Event

May 5, 2011

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Frank James

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It's still unclear, at least to those of us outside the head of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, if he will run for the Republican Party presidential nomination.

Daniels gives the impression that it's unclear to him, too.

During a speech at the American Enterprise Institute Wednesday, if Daniels displayed any of the burning ambition it takes to run for the White House, it must've slipped by unnoticed.

The Indiana governor proved that he could get in a dig at President Obama as well as the next potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate.

Saying that he noticed some flags were at half staff in Washington, he said he was at first puzzled. "But then it hit me. Hubert Schlafly, the inventor of the TelePrompTer died last week and I know President Obama's grief-stricken at the news," he said, prompting a round of laughter.

The joke seemed somewhat out-of -synch given the aura surrounding the president after he ordered this week's successful and risky mission to kill Osama bin Laden. It also came well after the Obama-can't-function-without-a-TelePrompTer meme had seemed to run its course on the Internet.

Indeed, with all the national media attention on him at that moment, another politician being talked of as White House material might've preceded his speech with praise for the Navy SEALs and CIA.

But Daniels went from his light warm-up remarks straight into his speech getting to the bin Laden news only during the question and answer session after his remarks.

He delivered an education talk, highlighting his Hoosier State achievements as governor. One interesting aspect of the speech was it served as a reminder not of the contrasts but similarities between Daniels and Obama Obama education policy.

As Education Week's Michele McNeil put it:

If Mitch Daniels decides to run for president, his recent legislative victories on education as the Republican governor of Indiana foreshadow what his national K-12 agenda would be.

Private-school vouchers and public school choice. Limits on collective bargaining for teachers. An emphasis on content over pedagogy for teachers. An expansion of charter schools. Teachers evaluated, in part, on test scores.

In fact, aside from vouchers, this agenda looks very much like the Obama administration's. And in a closely watched speech today at the American Enterprise Institute, where folks were looking for a hint into Gov. Daniels' presidential aspirations, he acknowledged as much.

President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, he said, "have had the courage to, in many cases, irritate some of their allies." He went so far as to "salute" and "commend" them on most of their education agenda.

As NPR's Mara Liasson reported for Morning Edition, Daniels didn't give much of an indication about whatever presidential intentions he may have. In response to her question about whether he thought there was still time for a late-deciding candidate to do what was required to be competitive, he said with the wryness that marked his appearance:

DANIELS: Even people far more sage than I about our political process and our presidential process are very surprised that on May the 4th it's not already far too late.

But, for whatever reason, it's not. I consider that from the standpoint of the public a blessing... I guess... unless you're a political professional or running a B&B in New Hampshire (laughter) It's a darn good thing that we'll have a campaign measured in months, a nomination campaign measured in months, and not years.

When the bin Laden subject came up during the Q and A, Daniels said of the U.S. effort:

DANIELS: Well done well handled. And let's just hope it presages more such successes.

But Daniels, who has acknowledged that his limited foreign-policy credentials would make it difficult for him to go head to head with Obama, then underscored that point.

From Mara's radio report:

MARA: But he wasnt willing or prepared to go much farther when asked to elaborate on comments he made earlier in the week that bin Laden's death did not end the war against terror:

DANIELS (at AEI responding to a questioner): What did I say?

QUESTIONER: You said the struggle's not over and it won't be for a long time.

DANIELS: Yeah, Well I don't think that's all that deep a thought. I don't know how much deeper I can go for ya.

That's the kind of unguarded moment opposition researchers, both Democratic and Republican, would file away for future use if Daniels were to decide to run which, again, was far from clear on Wednesday.

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