ABC News’ Michael Falcone and Arlette Saenz report:
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said on Wednesday that it is not too late for him to jump into the Republican presidential nominating contest, and even called the late start to the campaign “a blessing.”
“People far more sage than I about our political process and presidential process are very surprised that on May the fourth it’s not already far too late,” Daniels said at a speech in Washington DC. “But for whatever reason, it’s not.”
Daniels, who was answering a question from a reporter after a speech on education policy at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said that from the “standpoint of the public” the plodding pace of the campaign for the GOP nomination is “a blessing.”
A blessing, Daniels quipped, unless you are “a political professional or running a bed and breakfast in New Hampshire.”
He added, “It’s darn good thing that we’ll have a campaign — a nomination campaign — measured in months and not years."
For months, Daniels has been coy about a presidential run, and he offered few insights into his decision-making process during his trip to the East Coast this week. He made it clear he would not announce his presidential plans until after the end of Indiana’s legislative session. That session ended last Friday.
“I really thought that it might become too late somewhere along the line,” Daniels said of his thinking about his timeline. “But for whatever reason it appears not to be, and again, I think it’s a happy surprise.”
Even though he's not in the race yet, Daniels felt comfortable taking at least one swipe at President Obama, joking that the president must have been "grief-stricken" over the recent death of the inventor of the teleprompter. Like many politicians, Obama often speaks with the aid of that devce. Daniels' speech, on the other hand, was off the cuff without prepared remarks but with a PowerPoint presentation.
On Wednesday afternoon, Daniels focused most of his remarks to a standing-room-only crowd at the right-leaning think tank on his work to reform Indiana’s education system. And he sounded every bit the policy wonk who once served as director of the Office and Management and Budget under President George W. Bush. (Daniels said he recently consulted with Bush about his presidential ambitions.)
Daniels also responded to a question about comments he made on Tuesday in an interview with Fox News in which he said that despite the killing of Al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden, the struggle against terrorism “is not over and won't be for a long time.”
“I don’t think that’s all that deep a thought really,” Daniels told an audience member who asked him about his remarks.
“It was a subject on everybody’s mind and I simply affirm what I think common sense tells you that this was a very significant achievement, tremendously powerful from a symbolic standpoint operationally,” Daniels said. “But with everyone else, I think we all accept it’s just one real important moment in what will be a continuing conflict, a continuing responsibility of the government, but well done, well handled and let’s just hope it presages more such successes.”
When pressed by reporters to elaborate on his timeline for making an announcement — one way or the other — on a presidential bid, Daniels said, “We won’t take long.” He noted that “family considerations are always the most important” factor in that process.
The Indiana Republican, who has served as governor since 2005, touted his work to improve the education system in his state, including dismantling what he called “bookshelves full of regulations” hindering teacher performance and student achievement and removing “contractual handcuffs” for school administrators.
On two separate occasions during his remarks he praised President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan for showing "a lot of leadership" on education policy matters even though Daniels’ acknowledged he does not see eye to eye with the Obama administration on every issue.
In addition to his work on education policy, Daniels made waves in Indiana recently by vowing to sign a controversial measure cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood clinics, a move that some took as a sign that Daniels was trying to raise his profile.
Should he decide to run, the difficulty he would face transforming himself from a plain-spoken Midwestern governor into a national political player was apparent in the results of a Quinnipiac University poll released just hours before he spoke in Washington.
The poll showed Daniels in fifth place among other likely GOP presidential contenders with 5 percent support among Republicans — tied with Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney emerged on top with 18 percent, followed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee who each got 15 percent. Billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump stood at 12 percent.
Daniels' ambivalence toward the race for the Republican nomination, which currently has no official major candidates, was also apparent on Tuesday at a closed-door meeting with reporters in New York City where Daniels said his decision would come within a matter of weeks.
According to reporters in the room, Daniels pronounced himself "probably not” ready to debate President Obama on foreign policy issues. The National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru wrote, “His ambivalence about running seems real.” And Slate’s Jacob Weisberg tweeted: “Sure didn't sound like a Presidential candidate to me."