INDIANAPOLIS | Gov. Mitch Daniels, one of the nation's most popular Republican elected officials, believes that for his party to remain viable it must reach beyond its traditional supporters and attract new voters to the Republican label.
"It starts with explaining those things we believe are best for America, always from the standpoint of poor people, young people, folks trying to rise in the country," Daniels said. "This is a little blind spot for some of my fellow Republicans — they don't have to change what they're for, but they need to explain what motivates them, why they're for it."
The two-term Republican governor, whose approval rating is expected to top 60 percent when he leaves office Jan. 14 to become president of Purdue University, said in his 2004 and 2008 races he was able to win over minorities and other Hoosiers who don't normally vote Republican by showing that his policies would benefit them, too.
"I've only been in three elections counting one primary but the way we would conduct ourselves, and the way we've encouraged others, is see what you can do to bring people together — not draw a line that you hope is just barely on the plus side of 50 percent," Daniels said.
Even on controversial issues, such as immigration, Daniels said during a Statehouse interview this month that there's room for Republicans to stake out a reasonable position that's more likely to resonate with a greater number of voters.
"With a proper look to legitimate concerns, like making the borders mean something, you can still be on your front foot about welcoming the talent we need in the country and finding some way to recognize those that are here now if they want to earn citizenship," he said.
Looking ahead to the 2014 congressional races and the 2016 campaign for president, Daniels said he expects the pendulum of American voters will swing back toward Republicans as Democratic President Barack Obama struggles to implement the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
"I think the new health care bill is going to be a big mess," Daniels said. "I will be surprised if we don't have real, serious difficulties these next few years."
However, Daniels said to win, Republicans will need to nominate candidates who do more than just oppose Democrats. He said GOP candidates must be able to explain why the Republican Party's pro-growth platform is in everyone's best interest.
"To solve big problems in this country I think we've got to be a little more inclusive and practice a little more the politics of addition," Daniels said. "We'd be better off with folks who don't drive others away."
Daniels said he has no regrets about his decision not to run for president this year.
Not only was his family against it, but Daniels said not running also allowed him to keep his promise to Hoosiers that governor of Indiana was the only office he'd ever run for.
In addition, staying out of the race allowed him to focus on major policy proposals in the seventh and eighth years of his term when most administrations "run out of gas," he said.
"If I had been running for president we wouldn't have had education reform of the kind we've got, we wouldn't have had another rock-solid budget and some other things that I could name," Daniels said. "It's a decision I'm totally at peace with."