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Mitch Daniels Mania Sweeping the Nation

9:05 AM, Mar 1, 2010 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Well, maybe not the nation quite yet, but Mitch-mania has reached Ross Douthat's New York Times column:

Set a group of plugged-in conservatives to talking presidential politics, and you’ll get the same complaints about the 2012 field.

Mitt Romney? He couldn’t make the voters like him last time ... Sarah Palin? She’d lose 47 states ... Mike Huckabee? Better as a talk-show host ... Tim Pawlenty, Jim DeMint, Bobby Jindal, David Petraeus? Too blah, too extreme, too green, and stop dreaming ...

But murmur the name Mitch Daniels, and everyone perks up a bit. Would he win? Maybe not. But he’d be the best president of any of them ...

“I’ve never seen a president of the United States when I look in the mirror,” Daniels remarked last week, after officially inching the door ajar for 2012. You can’t blame him: At 5’7”, the Indiana governor wouldn’t be the tallest man to occupy the White House, and he’d be the baldest president since Dwight D. Eisenhower. If Romney looks like central casting’s idea of a chief executive, Daniels resembles the character actor who plays the director of the Office of Management and Budget — a title that he held, as it happens, during George W. Bush’s first term.

In a just world, Daniels’s record would make him the Tea Party movement’s favorite politician. During the fat years of the mid-2000s, while most governors went on spending sprees, he was trimming Indiana’s payroll, slowing the state government’s growth, and turning a $800 million deficit into a consistent surplus. Now that times are hard, his fiscal rigor is paying off: the state’s projected budget shortfall for 2011, as a percentage of the budget, is the third-lowest in the country.

But Daniels hasn’t just been a Dr. No on policy. His “Healthy Indiana” plan, which offers catastrophic coverage to low-income residents, aspires to eventually cover 130,000 people, about a third of the state’s long-term uninsured. He’s pushed targeted investments in kindergarten programs, the police force and the child welfare office. And he’s been a pragmatic free-marketeer, rather than a strict ideologue. His controversial decision to lease the Indiana toll road reaped $3.8 billion for the state. But when an attempt to outsource welfare enrollment went awry, Daniels yanked the system back into the public sector.

In case you missed it, see Fred Barnes on Daniels from last week.

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