INDIANAPOLIS – Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels announced Tuesday that he wouldn’t seek his state’s open U.S. Senate seat next year, ending weeks of speculation about whether he would enter a vicious Republican primary fight against a combative defender of former President Donald Trump.
The decision by the 73-year-old Daniels comes two weeks after U.S. Rep. Jim Banks announced he was running for the seat being vacated by GOP Sen. Mike Braun as he makes a 2024 run for governor.
“With full credit and respect for the institution and those serving in it, I conclude that it’s just not the job for me, not the town for me, and not the life I want to live at this point,” Daniels said in a statement released by a longtime adviser.
The Washington-based anti-tax Club for Growth had already endorsed Banks and criticized Daniels as an insufficiently conservative “old guard Republican,” signaling a line of attack for a nasty intraparty race in the GOP-dominated state.
Daniels, who was considered a 2012 presidential contender with a conservative fiscal reputation, ended eight years as governor in early 2013 with high approval ratings. He stayed in the public eye for the past decade as the high-profile president of Purdue University before stepping down at the end of December.
His decision leaves Banks as the only declared candidate some 15 months ahead of Indiana’s 2024 primary.
Banks, 43, was first elected to Congress from a heavily Republican district in northeastern Indiana in 2016, the year after he returned from an eight-month military deployment to Afghanistan with the Navy Reserve.
He has since become a frequent Fox News Channel guest and Trump ally who voted against certifying Joe Biden’s presidential election victory after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, then the House speaker, months later rejected Republican leader Kevin McCarthy’s pick of Banks as the top GOP member on the committee investigating the deadly Capitol insurrection, citing the need to protect the review’s “integrity.”
Rep. Victoria Spartz, in her second term from a central Indiana district, is another Republican who has stated interest in the Senate race. The Ukrainian-born Spartz has been critical at times of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began last February.
Banks has been eager to pull at political divides. His campaign video announcement invoked disputes over transgender girls’ sports, blamed China for COVID-19 and claimed that “anti-Americanism” is being pushed in schools and the military, criticizing both “the radical Democrats and the spineless Republicans.”
Daniels, who was President George W. Bush’s budget director and a senior executive at Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly & Co. before becoming governor, caused a stir among cultural conservatives while considering a 2012 White House run by saying the next president facing economic crisis “would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues.”
Daniels said Tuesday that he didn’t believe he “would be well-suited to legislative office, particularly where seniority remains a significant factor in one’s effectiveness.”
Daniels said the country faces critical problems with its national debt, the stability of safety-net programs, aggression from China and the need “to secure our borders without depriving the nation of the talent and energy that grateful immigrants can bring.”
“I would have tried to work on these matters in a way that might soften the harshness and personal vitriol that has infected our public square, rendering it not only repulsive to millions of Americans, but also less capable of effective action to meet our threats and seize our opportunities,” Daniels said.
Not waiting for Daniels’ decision, Donald Trump Jr. had likened Daniels to Utah Sen. Mitt Romney as a “weak RINO,” or Republican in name only. The deep-pocketed Club for Growth recently released an ad reaching back to Daniels' time as President George W. Bush’s budget director to criticize him for increasing the federal debt and calling him an “old guard Republican clinging to the old ways of the bad old days.”
A longtime Daniels adviser knocked the Club for Growth for helping to push failed Republican candidates as the party fell short of recapturing the Senate in last year’s election.