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Daniels downplays 2012 bid

From NBC's Ali Weinberg
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels -- considered by some to be a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2012 -- said today that he doesn't plan to run for the office but is content to "get things done" in his home state.

"I don't plan to do it, I don't expect to do it, I really don't want to do it," Daniels said, neglecting to add, however, that he will not run.

Daniels spent much of the hour-long Q&A expressing the need for lawmakers to "have a grown-up conversation about the affordability of the government we have," citing Social Security as one of the country's most ominous problems. But when asked to explain why he wouldn't want to lead the country himself, Daniels responded, "can't you name a hundred reasons a sane person wouldn't want to do this?"

Daniels also weighed in on Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh's decision not to seek re-election, which came as a surprise even to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

"I think it's too bad that our senator decided not to stay," Daniels said. "I thought he was providing, and had the prospect of providing, a lot more balance. But I think he finally decided it wasn't going to happen. I didn't see it coming, and was just as surprised as anyone," he added.

While he denied wanting to run for national office, Daniels did cite his own governing style as a successful example of adherence to his party's values while accepting and listening to the ideas of his opponents.

"We have a divided legislature; we get them to come together on things like health insurance for uninsured, property tax capping, a host of things." Daniels said. "A Republicanism that looks like that might have a chance," he added.

"I'm very shy about prescribing or extrapolating anything from our state for other states -- let alone the nation," he continued, adding: "It's very important that our party present a constructive, inclusive program to the country."

Although Daniels was one of 12 Republicans to appear on the ballot for the Conservative Political Action Conference's presidential straw poll over the weekend, he did not attend the event. When asked why he wasn't present, Daniels said, "It's the second or third or fourth time that I respectfully declined the opportunity to come speak. I don't do much of that sort of thing, as I say I stay in my lane."

He did, however, note the influx of conservative grassroots attendees -- and what he saw as the nuance of their political leanings -- at this year's event, citing the account of a CPAC organizer. "He was talking a lot about some of the new people that showed up; I gather they were generally from the group that's organized rallies and so forth. I said, you know, for instance, it looks like they cut Sen. [Scott] Brown a lot of slack. He's simply not aligned with a lot of folks on what we've come to call the social issues."

Daniels cautioned that the energy and frustration of groups like the Tea Party need to be funneled into constructive policy. Referring to local and national grassroots conservative rallies, Daniels said, "The events of the past year have had their moments of excess but been a very healthy thing... And it's the first stage, possibly of getting a handle on this nationally. It's clearly not sufficient, raising hell never is. But it can be a very important first step. So we just need to now move from that awakening to an honest discussion," he added.

The governor, who also served as George W. Bush's OMB Director from 2001 to 2003, commented on the Obama administration's handling of the fiscal crisis.

"Having served two sentences in White Houses, I'm inclined to be a little charitable to whoever's there, because they always have to operate under incredible pressure," Daniels said, adding that he agreed with the underlying rationale for the administration's actions, if not its implementation.

"I never have critized, for instance, the idea of some effort to stabilize the financial markets. I didn't like the way they finally did it. I thought maybe buying bad assets and quarantining them was a better idea, but something had to be attempted. Daniels distanced himself from Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's recent statements that Obama's stimulus package worked, but added, "I didn't criticize the idea of some fiscal stimulus as part of the attempt to jump start. The way they did it turned out to be mediocre, just to be gentle about it," he said.

Prescribing his advice for Republican candidates in 2010 and beyond, Daniels recommended "thick skin and a willingness to accept criticism and alternative views," quoting President Ronald Reagan: "we have no enemies, only opponents."