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Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels says he isn’t planning on seeking the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2012, but the speculation from party insiders and news outlets continues.

Politico last week outlined the likely 2012 contenders, but concluded by saying many donors are waiting to see what Daniels–and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour–decide before writing checks to any candidates.

Neither has a federal PAC, and both have gone to lengths to publicly explain why they would not run for president. But the two governors — both old Washington hands — have a lot of fans in the ranks of establishment Republicans. There is considerable money and support on the table until they decide.

The two are also close, leading some GOP insiders to think that if one runs, the other will stay out. But if either does get in, he will vie with Pawlenty to be the mainstream conservative alternative to Romney.

Absent federal PACs, success will be measured by whether Daniels can flip the Indiana state House to the GOP — his chief political focus this year — and by how many governorships Barbour can win in his capacity as chairman of the RGA.

There’s more speculation this week that Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels may be encouraged to make a bid for the White House in 2012.

Daniels is popular in the Hoosier state, and in a time when the GOP is focusing on fiscal issues, the governor’s number-crunching history (George W. Bush called Daniels “the Blade” when he was the director of the Office of Management and Budget) could work to his advantage. Business Week points out that Daniels has the knowledge and credibility to make a run, but his home-state popularity may not carry over to a national race.

A staunch conservative—he derides President Barack Obama’s stimulus package and auto bailouts as “nationalization”—Daniels admits his approach isn’t always best. He didn’t adequately prepare citizens for the toll road sale to a foreign entity and botched an attempt to privatize the welfare system by trying to force beneficiaries—who are often impoverished and technologically ignorant—to enroll online for Medicaid and food stamps. He doesn’t see government as the central investor in Indiana’s future but knows there are certain areas in which it can’t be replaced; he explains the decision to double child welfare caseworkers, for instance, because, “[you] can’t find those in the Yellow Pages.”

His aggressive use of private-sector tactics in the public sphere has rankled legislators in both parties, who at times feel they’re being treated as underlings to the smartest guy in the room. That hasn’t stopped pundits and fellow Republicans from putting Daniels’ name forward for the GOP nomination for President in 2012. He doesn’t have Sarah Palin’s rhetorical fire, and at a shade under 5′ 7″ he won’t look terribly imposing next to Tim Pawlenty or Mitt Romney. Daniels, meanwhile, has perfected a myriad of banal ways to deflect the speculation. But if numbers matter as much as he says they do, consider these: He won reelection by a hefty margin of 18 points in 2008 even as Obama carried the state. And Daniels’ current approval ratings are hovering between 60 and 70 percent, while the President’s is at 52 percent. Those just might be actionable figures.

Michael Gerson says in the Washington Post that Daniels may further face trouble with some Republicans when it comes to social issues.

Daniels’s appeal is not ideological; it is mathematical. The passions aroused by ideology, in his view, hamper the ability of political adults to deal rationally with disturbing budget numbers. But if Daniels de-emphasizes ideology, he elevates moral virtues such as thrift, realism and humility.

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There is a reason why OMB is not a typical steppingstone to high political office; the same reason that accountants generally don’t become sex symbols. But Daniels became a highly successful Indiana governor, combining a motorcycle-driving, pork-tenderloin-eating populism with courageous budget cutting, a solid record of job creation and a reputation for competence. If responsibility and austerity are now sexy, Daniels and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are centerfolds.

LEO says Daniels lacks the charisma to be at the top of the ticket, but suggests that there could be room for him somewhere.

Maybe the number crunching conservative would make for an excellent vice-presidential nominee? Think about it, President Obama barely won Indiana’s 11 electoral votes back in 2008 and Daniels’ approval ratings are over 60 percent in the Hoosier state.

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