‘MitchFest’ Ends at Purdue, But Could Spread to Indiana
In mid-May 2003, in what Howey Politics described as “Mitch Mania during Mitch Week,” it was President George W. Bush who coined the political slogan for a Hoosier generation.
Daniels was the man of the hour when President Bush came to the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Bush lauded Daniels, his departing OMB director as “my man Mitch,” adding, “Mitch Daniels has been a good friend, a close adviser and I’m going to miss him. Washington’s loss will be the gain of the people of Indiana.”
Thus, “My Man Mitch” became the 2004 Hoosier Republican battle cry after being shut out of the governor’s office for 16 years.
It appeared to come full circle at Tuesday’s “MitchFest” at Purdue University. Bush was back, conducting an hour-long Q&A at the Elliott Hall of Music with the out-going Purdue president. Following that was a departure celebration, with the Memorial Union backdrop featuring iconic Daniels imagery, from his Harley-Davidson to holding a Purdue band baritone horn. In this star-studded gathering, the word amongst the throng centered on what “informed and reliable” sources had told Howey Politics last week: That Mitch Daniels is pondering a 2024 U.S. Senate run.
According to multiple informed and reliable sources milling around the Memorial Union cocktail hour, once Daniels departs Hovde Hall on Dec. 31, he will gather his braintrust in Florida in January. These sources tell me a gubernatorial run is off the table, but what is being considered is the open U.S. Senate seat that Mike Braun is vacating to run for governor. It’s the Senate seat that Daniels’ old boss Dick Lugar had held for 36 years.
Said one Daniels confidante, “He’s got to make a decision quickly” as the field that includes U.S. Reps. Jim Banks, Victoria Spartz and possibly Attorney General Todd Rokita and Rep. Trey Hollingsworth gathers. Another told me, “He’s too valuable to just be serving on corporate boards.”
No decision has been made, these sources say, But in the next breath, they say the former governor is “intrigued” by the potential Senate soapbox, coming as the Donald Trump era begins to wane.
For on this very night some 600 miles to the south, Donald Trump’s Hooveresque wrecking ball gashed the Republican Party once more. GOP nominee Herschel Walker’s embarrassing Georgia Senate loss to Democrat Raphael Warnock meant that for the second consecutive cycle, Trump’s absurd candidate endorsements had prevented a Republican Senate majority, forging instead a 51-49 Democrat advantage.
In a post-Trump vacuum, many Hoosier Republicans salivate over “My Man Mitch” bringing his rhetorical skills and asset management techniques to the upper chamber.
These were on full display at the Memorial Union Tuesday evening. Daniels opened his 16-minute remarks by quoting an old country song, “How can I miss you when you won’t go away?” The attendees howled with laughter.
Purdue Board of Trustees President Mike Berghoff in introducing Daniels, said, “It’s been 10 years of full-on, non-stop, high energy, innovation, change, progress, reinvention. The list of accomplishments is long.” He cited a 10-year tuition freeze that saved families $1 billion, as well as Purdue Global for older students and Purdue Polytech high schools in Indianapolis and South Bend.
Daniels discussed his 10-year legacy at the helm of Indiana’s land grant university, including that of a confident communicator, or as Daniels put it, “Spread the word; share the news … telling people who should have known all along what a great institution this is.
“I like to think we added a few features over the last 10 years,” Daniels said. “I believe we’ve stood for value at a time when many people have been questioning is higher education really worth it. We worked on that every day. That little catch phrase in the video – higher education is the highest proven value – that’s one thing we’re really all about.
“So we tried to enhance the quality and control the cost,” Daniels continued. “We stood for excellence in scale. We did not accept that there was a tradeoff between bringing education to more people. The original assignment of land grant universities like ours is open the doors. In fact, we’ve grown 30%, and the quality of performance and graduation rates, everything has gone up.“
Daniels mentioned mayors Tony Roswarski and John Dennis for helping transform the “west end of this campus” from tired strip malls and ancient Dairy Queens to the burgeoning Discovery Park with tenants like Saab and Rolls-Royce reshaping the skyline and on a recent forum, wowed U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Commerce Sec. Gina Raimondo. “You just wait, there’s more coming,” Daniels said. “Some of it pretty soon.”
He quoted an obituary for Ohio University founder and abolitionist Zephron Cutler: “At his passing, the local paper wrote, ‘In every sphere and every relation of life, he was a useful man.’
“I like that,” Daniels said, “That would be a good thing to be, a useful man I’ve tried to be.” Or, Daniels noted, a young boy from Oyster Bay, N.Y., observed on the death of President Theodore Roosevelt in an assigned essay: “He was a fulfiller of good intentions.”
“This world is full of people with good intentions,” Daniels concluded. “But, not all of them fulfilled. At Purdue, we fulfill them.”
The Hoosier body politic now awaits Daniels’ next chapter of intentions.
The columnist is managing editor of Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs at StateAffairs.com/pro/Indiana.