Image: Mitch Daniels
Jose Luis Magana  /  AP
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, on Feb. 11. Daniels said Sunday he won't run for president because of family concerns.
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updated 5/22/2011 5:26:50 PM ET 2011-05-22T21:26:50

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels joined the march of would-be GOP presidential hopefuls offstage Sunday in a dead-of-night decision that put his supporters in play and muddled the fight for front-runner status against President Barack Obama.

Daniels' exit, which he said he made at his family's behest, clears the upcoming news cycle to absorb former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's entry into the race Monday in Iowa.

Make way for Pawlenty, Huntsman?
For the moment, Pawlenty would be the only Midwesterner in the campaign, a conservative who governed a Democratic-leaning state and has a record resisting tax increases and spending increases.

But Pawlenty would have a rival for the claim of No. 1 fiscal conservative in Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor and Obama's first ambassador to China. Both Republicans are competing to emerge as the principle challenger to ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

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A core group of supporters will await Daniels' advice before getting on board with any campaign, said John Hammond, one of Daniels' top fundraisers. This group plans to meet in the coming days to vet the remaining candidates, said Bob Grand, who ran Romney's Indiana fundraising efforts in 2008 but was prepared to support Daniels.

"I know a lot of us will be waiting to see and hear what Mitch is going to say," Hammond said.

Story: Huntsman: Ditch bickering in name of patriotism

New pressure on Bush, Christie
Daniels' departure may make room for other contenders as establishment Republicans, including some in the Bush family circle, search for a fiscal conservative with the stature to challenge Obama. Influential GOP donors who courted Daniels have tried to entice former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, son and brother of former presidents, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie into the contest.

Also tossed into the mix is Rep. Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman. His budget blueprint for the election year cuts government spending in line with the populist mandate of the 2010 congressional elections, Republican say.

Bush, Christie and Ryan, R-Wis., insist they are not seeking the nomination.

Daniels bows out because of family
The renewed scramble came hours after Daniels, President George W. Bush's budget chief, disclosed to his supporters early Sunday that he would not run because his family had vetoed the idea.

Story: No go in 2012: Ind. Gov. Daniels not running

"In the end, I was able to resolve every competing consideration but one," Daniels said in a middle-of-the-night email. "The interests and wishes of my family is the most important consideration of all. If I have disappointed you, I will always be sorry."

It wasn't immediately clear when Daniels made up his mind.

When an Associated Press reporter asked him in an interview on Tuesday which way he was leaning, Daniels replied: "I'm standing upright at the moment" and said he'd decide soon.

Possible contenders respond to the news
Decision announced, the compliments from possible contenders poured in.

Huntsman associated himself with Daniels' message of fiscal conservatism.

"His message about the most immediate threat facing our nation — the massive debt — will not go unheard," Huntsman said in a statement, which did not directly address his own plans.

"I look forward to working with him to promote long-term solutions to our nation's problems as well as continuing a valued friendship."

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who's in the race, told CBS' "Face the Nation" that he thought Daniels "would be in the front-runners from Day One if he'd decided to run."

Ryan said Daniels "would have been a great addition to this race." One the House's "young guns," Ryan waved off any suggestion that he was interested in joining the 2012 contest.

Video: Ryan won’t replace Daniels in presidential race

"You never know what opportunities present themselves way down the road," Ryan said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I'm not talking about right now."

Polls show that Republican primary voters want more options than they have now.

'Not running' list keeps growing
But with Daniels' departure, the race these days seems more about who isn't running than who is. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is out; so is Donald Trump. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour pulled the plug, following Sen. John Thune of South Dakota and Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana.

Daniels seemed more optimistic about a run in the past week than he had in months, though he never had sounded particularly enthused. His advisers had reached out to Republicans in Iowa and other early nominating states for private conversations.

But as he talked about a candidacy, he always pointed back to his family as the primary issue that would hold him back.

His wife, Cheri, filed for divorce in 1993 and moved to California to remarry, leaving him to raise their four daughters in Indiana. She later divorced again, and she and Daniels reconciled and remarried in 1997.

Mrs. Daniels had never taken much of a public role in her husband's political career. So it raised eyebrows when she was chosen as the keynote speaker at a major Indiana fundraiser in May.

Both husband and wife were said to be pleased with the reception they got, and advisers suggested that the outcome could encourage Daniels to run for president. Even so, Republicans in Washington and Indiana with ties to Daniels put the odds at 50-50.

Daniels used his time considering a run to shine a spotlight on rising budget deficits and national debt, even though Bush enlarged the scope of government and federal spending.

Bush, famously fond of nicknaming those he liked, called Daniels "the Blade" for his pursuit of budget cuts. Daniels has said "the pinata" might have been more appropriate, given the way members of Congress beat him up for trying to cut spending and earmarks.

A one-time senior executive at Eli Lilly & Co., Daniels caused a stir among cultural conservatives by saying the next president facing economic crisis "would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues."

He is looked with admiration in GOP circles for being the rare Republican who won office in 2008, a Democratic year, in a state that Obama won. Since being re-elected, he has leveraged Republican majorities in the Indiana Legislature to push through a conservative agenda.

Daniels made his intentions clear in a characteristically understated email.

It was sent by the governor through Eric Holcomb, the Indiana Republican Party chairman and one of Daniels' closest advisers

"Many thanks for your help and input during this period of reflection," the statement ended. "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."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Mitch Daniels skips White House bid

  1. Closed captioning of: Mitch Daniels skips White House bid

    >>> today's politics and an announcement from mitch daniels that he will not run for president in 2012 . it leaves another hole to fill in the gop field. here with more insight is david fwregry, moderate aror of "meet the press." good morning. great to see you. daniels dropped this after midnight, an overnight announcement. in the end i was able to resolve every competing consideration but one, the interests and wishes of my family, is the most important of all. i think we're less than eight months from the first voting in the whole primary season. where does this leave the gop? the party establishment really wanted to see daniels throw his hat in.

    >> mitt romney , tim pawlenty , they will be the happiest about this. it leaves more room for them, more opportunities to raise money. daniels was seen in many quarters as kind of the candidate on the white horse who was going to come in and buck up this field that a lot of primary voters were not all that hot about. and he had the right message, the right year, fiscal discipline, governor from indiana. he had a lot going for him. i think the consideration was important. his wife, sherry, had split with daniels years ago, then they reconciled and remarried. and i think, frankly, they didn't want to go through all the personal scrutiny that was coming their way.

    >> you mentioned tim pawlenty . he's been on the sidelines. tomorrow he will make it it official, i understand.

    >> he's going to get into the race, the official step of him doing that. he's somebody who in many ways is getting there behind mitt romney , working for the more populous wing of the party, hoping to play big in iowa. the former governor of minnesota. also somebody who has the ability to flip and be a good southern candidate as well. with huckabee out of the race, lester, there really is no southern candidate, somebody who will feel the debates of the party.

    >> let me turn your attention to president and foreign policy -- he gave the big speech last week about israel , his vision that israel should return to 67 borders as the basis for negotiations with the palestinians. now he has a speech to apec today. will this continue to be a tough sell? how will he it continue to frame this discussion?

    >> today he'll say there is no bigger ally for the israelis than the united states . and that israel 's security is paramount to the united states . that's what apec wants to hear. the israeli leader netanyahu is upset with him. the pictures you are showing now were remarkable. the fact the israeli leader would come in, in front of the cameras, and turn to the president, literally turn toward him and say, i disagree with you and this is why based on jewish history . and you look at the president's face where he's in some way being lectured to by the israeli leader. you know, this is a significant split. but the israelis and the obama administration are still stalwart allies and nothing is going to change that.

    >> all right, david. see you on "meet the press" later on.

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