The following report from contributing writer Dave Bangert was first published in his Substack newsletter, Based in Lafayette, Indiana.
Mitch Daniels (above), a week after his 10-year run as Purdue president ended, said Saturday that he’s ruled out another run for Indiana governor, saying he couldn’t talk himself into going for a third term amid an already crowded field of Republicans.
But Daniels told the Based in Lafayette reporting project that he’s listening to suggestions he should run for the U.S. Senate seat expected to open as Republican Sen. Mike Braun runs for Indiana governor in 2024.
Daniels said Saturday he’s seriously considering it.
“I’m going to give that a long look,” Daniels said. “I’ve not decided at all to do it, but I am giving it a serious look.”
As for talk about him going for a third term as governor, a position he held from 2005 to 2013, before coming to Purdue in 2013 …
“I gave a respectful listen to it,” Daniels said Saturday. “Some people I regard highly wanted me to, but I don’t think it’s the right thing. … A rerun just didn’t feel like the right thing to do.”
What’s next for Daniels, 73, has been a bit of a parlor game the past six months, with speculation starting minutes after he announced in June that 2022 would be his final year at Purdue. As he wound down his time in West Lafayette, Daniels remained coy, beyond saying that stepping down as Purdue president didn’t mean he was retiring.
A third run for governor, as Gov. Eric Holcomb finishes his second term, was among the leading scenarios.
Even his one-time boss at the White House, former President George W. Bush, broached the subject in December during a sit-down with Daniels at Purdue’s Elliott Hall of Music. During that conversation, Daniels was bragging on Indiana, telling Bush about how the state had positioned itself for the highest per capita foreign direct investment in the country. Daniels told Bush that no one got out of a visit to Purdue without that sort of sales pitch. Bush’s reply: It kind of sounded like Daniels was running for governor, again. As the audience at Elliott applauded, Daniels shook his head no and formed an “X” with his index fingers.
On Saturday, Daniels said the Republican field lining up to run for governor in 2024 played into his decision to skip the race. Along with Braun, Republicans Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and Fort Wayne businessman Eric Doden have announced campaigns in what promises to be an expensive campaign. (Braun reported this week that he’d raised $1.5 million, on top of $1.5 million transferred from his Senate campaign fund, since announcing his campaign in November.)
“There are other good people who are running, people who are friends of mine,” Daniels said. “People made the case that we’d win. So, it wasn’t that. It was, is that really a good idea? And I just decided it wasn’t, not at this stage of my life. … I just couldn’t talk myself into it.”
Daniels said he’s doing more listening than anything – “I’d say I’m hearing from an awful lot of people, both in and out of the state,” he said – as he thinks about a possible run for U.S. Senate in 2024.
In a survey of 1,000 registered voters in December by Bellwether Research, former Daniels pollster Christine Matthews reported that Daniels had a clear edge among other potential Republican candidates – including U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, U.S. Rep. Victoria Spartz, Attorney General Todd Rokita and former U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth – if he jumped into the Senate race.
In December, columnist Brian Howey quoted confidantes of Daniels saying they’d been encouraging him to run for Senate. Mark Lubbers, a friend and longtime adviser to Daniels, told the New York Times’ Blake Hounshell, “I don’t think he feels any urgency to make a quick decision. … But I think it’s definitely serious.” And Importantville reporter Adam Wren, writing for Politico in late December, outlined what sort of race Daniels might face from a field that leaned further to the right.
Daniels – who spent time working for the late Sen. Richard Lugar as well as time as budget director for Bush – didn’t offer a timetable for a decision.
“Except to say that I don’t generally dither too much,” Daniels said. “I’ve been away from politics 10 years. And I’ve been away from federal politics, which is a whole different system, for a lot longer than that. It’s a whole different world than I knew. So, I’m going to spend a little time listening to those who think it’s a good idea and trying to examine what that would be like if it actually worked out.”
What does he think Lugar would tell him to do?
“My guess is that he would probably say, ‘Sure,’” Daniels said. “But I’ve only ever had action jobs, and this one would be a little different, obviously, especially at this point in life.”
Daniels’ term as Purdue president ended Dec. 31. He will remain with the university in a voluntary role as chairman of the Purdue Research Foundation, working with the ongoing development of the Discovery Park District just west of campus and helping with Purdue’s presence in Indianapolis after Purdue and Indiana University split IUPUI.