- Associated Press - Sunday, May 22, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 Obama.

Mr. 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.

For the moment, Mr. Pawlenty would be the only Midwesterner in the campaign. A conservative who governed a Democratic-leaning state, he has a record of resisting tax increases and spending increases.

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

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

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

Mr. 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 Mr. Obama. Influential GOP donors who courted Mr. 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 D. Ryan of Wisconsin, who is 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.

Mr. Bush, Mr. Christie and Mr. Ryan insist they are not seeking the nomination.

The renewed scramble came hours after Mr. 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.

“In the end, I was able to resolve every competing consideration but one,” Mr. 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 Mr. Daniels made up his mind.

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

Decision announced, the compliments from possible contenders poured in.

Mr. Huntsman associated himself with Mr. Daniels‘ message of fiscal conservatism.

Story Continues →