GOP strategists say that the removal of Daniels as a factor has made it even more obvious that the contest is becoming one between presumed front-runner Mitt Romney and a pack of underdogs hoping to emerge as the alternative to the former Massachusetts governor.
There are still a handful of possible candidates — among them, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota — who have not yet announced their intentions.
And the dismay that some influential Republicans are feeling over Daniels’s refusal to run may well spark a renewal of their efforts to coax such conservative stars as ex-Florida governor Jeb Bush and current New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie into the race.
On Sunday afternoon, Bush was getting entreaties by e-mail, one associate reported. On Sunday night, he released a statement saying: “While I am flattered by everyone’s encouragement, my decision has not changed. I will not be a candidate for president in 2012.”
Those who are close to the Indiana governor say that he had wanted to run, if only to make sure that the issues of economic growth and fiscal discipline with which he has been so closely associated would get their due. But ultimately, he yielded to the opposition of his wife and four daughters.
“Simply put, I find myself caught between two duties. I love my country; I love my family more,” Daniels wrote in an e-mail to supporters.
Daniels and his small team had actually been well on their way to a candidacy, according to Mark Lubbers, a longtime Daniels adviser. Legal documents to form some kind of presidential committee had been drafted. Daniels’s advisers had held conversations with people interested in helping to staff the upper ranks of the campaign. Potential supporters, including members of Congress and other elected officials, were in the queue in anticipation.
Some of this work was done without the explicit approval or direction of Daniels, as his advisers waited for the governor and his family to come to a decision. He hoped his wife, Cheri, and their daughters would relent and give him the okay. In the end, they did not.
On Friday, Daniels asked that a conference call be set up for Saturday with a handful of advisers who had first urged him to consider running more than a year ago. Daniels read advisers the statement he would later give to the Indianapolis Star as well as a message e-mailed to supporters by Indiana Republican Party Chairman Eric Holcomb.
“His voice broke only one place when he read it to us,” Lubbers said. That was where Daniels expressed his sorrow that he had disappointed his allies, and added: “If I have disappointed you, I will always be sorry. If you feel that this was a non-courageous or unpatriotic decision, I understand and will not attempt to persuade you otherwise.”