- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2011

In the past week, the Republican field for the 2012 election has dramatically contracted. Mike Huckabee bowed out Saturday night, citing personal conviction as the reason for his pass. The Donald quickly followed Monday, under pressure from NBC executives to commit to additional seasons of “Celebrity Apprentice.” Now is the time for Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels to throw his hat into the ring.

As potential candidates, both Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Trump polled well among likely Republican voters, in some cases even tying for second place behind super-funded Mitt Romney. Their declining to run leaves a competitive gap unlikely to be filled by any of the declared candidates - Herman Cain, Gary Johnson, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum - who debated one another at the unremarkable Republican primary debate May 5.

Consequently, Mr. Daniels has a unique opportunity to make a play for both social conservatives who supported Mr. Huckabee and Tea Partyers who were excited by Mr. Trump’s plain speaking and fearlessness in confronting both the media and President Obama. Though he drew fire a year ago for suggesting that the next president call a “truce on the so-called social issues” to focus on economic problems, former Huckabee supporters should be reassured by the endorsement of Indiana pro-life groups, his recent signing of a bill to defund Indiana abortion providers and going on record as personally supporting traditional marriage.

Declaring now, during this perceived vacuum before these two groups bestow their loyalties elsewhere, would dramatically improve his modest name recognition. Mr. Daniels isn’t well-known outside of wonky D.C. types and political junkies. According to a recent IBOPE Zogby poll, only 4 percent of 1,377 Republican primary voters chose Mr. Daniels as their first preference for the nomination - mainly because the others don’t really know who the self-effacing governor is. If he runs, Mr. Daniels is going to need enough time to introduce himself to voters and raise sufficient money to compete with deep-pocketed Mr. Romney.

Up to this point, Mr. Daniels‘ waiting to make a decision has served him well. The drumbeat for a Daniels‘ candidacy by Republicans dissatisfied with their assortment for 2012 began as early as 2009, his predictable response to which was that he needed to focus on his unfinished work in Indiana. He subsequently oversaw substantive education reforms and a balanced state budget, which should play well among primary voters looking for a candidate with a serious record. However, any further delay on his part will look like dithering rather than thoughtfulness, something the electorate has had enough of in the current national chief executive.

How someone enters the race and pursues a presidential bid communicates a lot to voters about his ability to lead - a message it’s crucial to get right from the outset. If Mr. Daniels ultimately decides to go for it, it would be wise to take advantage of this timing and jump into the race while primary voters are still considering their options.