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Mitch Daniels State of the Union rebuttal makes GOP wonder: 'What if?'

Mitch Daniels was seen as a potential challenger to President Obama until he opted out of running last year. After his rebuttal of Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday, some GOP elites are openly longing for a Mitch Daniels candidacy.

By Staff writer / January 25, 2012

In this image from video, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels delivers the Republican response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address in Washington, on Jan. 24.

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Mitch Daniels, Republican presidential nominee?

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Once upon a time, that was a key Republican Party strategy to win back the White House from President Obama. The two-term Indiana governor decided early last year to not seek the party's nomination, but the wishful thinking has only deepened after Mr. Daniels' concise and reasoned GOP rebuttal Tuesday night to Mr. Obama's State of the Union address.

“I could hear sighs all over the country from Republicans [about] what might have been,” conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer told Fox News late Tuesday. “That was one of the best speeches I’ve heard … and I think it was one of the best presentations of the conservative idea against the larger government of Obama.”

Such accolades have not yet been heaped upon the two front-runners in the Republican presidential race: former House speaker Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney

The first three GOP contests have not produced a definitive winner, and the Republican leadership, in picking Daniels to deliver the party's rebuttal on Tuesday, may be circling back to someone they perceive as able to “bridge the gap” between the far right faction of their party and the more doctrinaire establishment, says Bruce Buchanan, who teaches presidential politics and public policy at the University of Texas in Austin.

Daniels “strikes people clearly as a grownup … [and] the fact [that the Republican Party] invited Daniels and he accepted most likely indicates some hopes of attracting him,” Mr. Buchanan says.

Mr. Romney, who has a record as a moderate governor and whose Mormon faith is worrisome to evangelical Christian conservatives, and Mr. Gingrich, who resigned as speaker and whose marital infidelities are no secret, are perceived in some quarters as flawed. Compared with them, Daniels is largely free of controversy, and he has a record of working with both parties and of taking pragmatic positions on fiscal and social issues. He is also “more comfortable in his own skin” and “pretty unflappable,” which makes him less prone to gaffes than Romney or Gingrich, says Buchanan.

Daniels also spent time in Washington, as director of the White House Office of Management and Budget in the George W. Bush administration.

The national Republican Party courted Daniels for the 2012 race, but he bowed out last spring. His wife, Cheri Daniels, is reported to have vetoed the idea, citing privacy concerns. Mrs. Daniels and her husband divorced in 1993 and remarried four years later. In the interim, she married and divorced another man in California and was subsequently criticized for not sharing the responsibility of raising the four daughters with Daniels, a charge the governor publically said was false.

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