Daniels Highlights Education Achievements, Offers Few Clues On Potential Presidential Run

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels spoke yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in a speech many political insiders were anticipating, hoping that Daniels might drop some hints about whether he will enter the 2012 presidential race.

Daniels, in his typical low-key fashion, said that he only came to AEI because he was scheduled for a dinner the same night in Washington, D.C., (he received an award from the Arab-American Institute), and that he had just stopped by so he could  “get a meal.”

As for 2012, Daniels said he has amassed an impressive portfolio of fiscal, education, and health care reforms as Indiana’s governor, and that would make him a formidable candidate if he chooses to run.  He implied  that he and his wife, Cheri, who is scheduled to speak at an Indiana Republican Party gala next week, will make a decision shortly.

Daniels has repeatedly said that he would make a decision on the 2012 race after Indiana’s legislative session ended on April 29, and that he probably would not run if his wife were not comfortable with it.

Daniels said that the late start to the 2012 presidential contest was a good thing, “unless you’re a political professional or running a bed and breakfast in New Hampshire.”

“People far more sage than I … are very surprised that on May 4, it’s not already far too late,” Daniels said, adding that it is a blessing that the presidential campaign will be measured in “months and not years.”

In speaking about his education reforms, Daniels said that “those who try to make changes in the public policy arena have to be prepared for mornings when you don’t feel like you are going to get up.”

He spoke off the cuff, without prepared remarks, made fun of Obama’s use of the teleprompter, and even used PowerPoint slides, consistent with the wonkish, problem-solving, low-key, “Aww shucks” image he has somewhat carefully cultivated.

Regarding education, Daniels said that when he accepted the invitation to speak at AEI, he did not know how his education bills would fare in Indiana’s legislature,so he was not sure he would speak in the wake of triumph or failure. In light of his achievements, he said that  “many in Indiana are uplifted this week” because the education reforms passed.

He discussed his ambitious education agenda, which was passed.  Parts of that agenda include expanded public and private school choice, limiting the collective bargaining of teachers unions, requiring teachers to be certified in the subject areas they will teach, and giving high school students who complete enough credits in three years money that they can use toward tuition at an institution of higher learning.

Daniels, who appeared with President Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan last month at an event, praised Obama and Duncan on their education platform.   If Daniels chooses to run and ends up winning the GOP nomination, this strategy may neutralize education as a campaign issue and allow him to focus on his signature issue, the debt.

The lingering question, though, was whether Daniels will present his ideas to a more national audience by running for President.

Daniels signaled that he would not take too long in making up his mind and announcing his intentions, and that his decision would be announced soon.