Make no mistake: Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels wants a role in the 2012 presidential campaign.
Less clear: Whether that means as a candidate or a commentator.
Daniels, in a brief interview with The Associated Press, said Wednesday he hadn't envisioned running for president. "It's certainly not the way I planned to spend the rest of my working life. ... On the other hand, there's my sincere concern about the condition and direction of the country. I promise you this, if I thought the country was in good shape or even reasonable shape, I wouldn't give this a thought."
Daniels said he was "alarmed about where we are. I hope I'm wrong, but I do want to see the nation make decisions that can guarantee a great future as opposed to risk of a serious setback to the American way of life."
Asked whether he considered President Barack Obama beatable in 2012, Daniels said he sometimes tells people "he's either unbeatable or unelectable. I just don't know which it is."
"I think there are things that ought to be said and ideas that ought to be presented to the American people. I think there are answers that can assure us a great future but there are dangers that will have a blighted future if we don't act. I can't see what would be at the end of a campaign."
"If I decide to do it, I'll just try to be as straight as I can be and persuasive as I can be and hope that at least if it doesn't work out, public understanding was improved," Daniels said.
The Midwestern governor promoted his state's education overhaul in a high-profile appearance in the nation's capital Wednesday, just days after fellow Republicans in the Indiana Legislature handed him a series of victories. Daniels had been adamant that he wouldn't consider seeking the presidency until the Legislature ended. It did so last weekend but he says he hasn't yet decided whether to enter the still-forming candidate field that lacks a front-runner.
"I really thought that it might become too late somewhere along the line," Daniels said. "But for whatever reason it appears not to be, and again, I think it's a happy surprise."
He added: "Unless you're a political professional or running a bed and breakfast in New Hampshire, that's a darned good thing that we're going to have a campaign for the nomination measured in months and not years," he said.
With the legislative session behind him, Daniels now is talking with potential supporters _ including President George W. Bush _ and donors to gauge whether to join the field. He says he will decide in the coming weeks what his political future will entail; he's barred from running for a third term as governor. His allies are standing ready with a political machine based a few blocks from the Indianapolis statehouse if he chooses to launch a presidential campaign.
Whether he's a candidate or not, he's certainly going to try to influence the debate, and Wednesday's appearance here at the conservative American Enterprise Institute showed as much.
Before a standing-room-only crowd, Daniels promoted an Indiana education overhaul, including measures that scale back the rights of teachers' unions, expand vouchers to pay for private schools and demand teachers have training in subjects they teach _ all popular moves among the conservatives who control the GOP nominating process.
He said the overhaul will force schools to compete for students and help improve education.
"If the public schools work, then the students ... won't be incarcerated in schools that don't work," Daniels said.
Indiana's measures create the nation's most expansive private school voucher program and add merit pay for teachers. Opponents say Daniels' agenda will hurt public schools by taking money and students away. The voucher proposal was a key reason behind a five-week boycott earlier this session by House Democrats, who returned to the state after winning concessions on the voucher bill and other legislation.
Daniels, who is of Syrian descent, received a public service award from The Arab American Institute on Wednesday night.
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