INDIANAPOLIS | With barely three weeks left in office, Gov. Mitch Daniels returned Wednesday to where it all began -- the 30-foot recreational vehicle he traveled in while campaigning across Indiana for 16 months in 2003-04 and again in 2008.
The Republican governor and three of his long-ago campaign aides took "RV-1" on a final road trip, leaving from the Statehouse and stopping in Tipton and Plymouth before arriving in Elkhart, where the white and blue RV emblazoned with the signatures of thousands of Hoosiers will go on display at the RV Hall of Fame.
"I've noticed over the years that people are much more interested in seeing this vehicle than me," Daniels said. "I get asked about it everywhere I go, even though it now hasn't been on the road for four years."
But when it was on the road it was everywhere, stopping in large and small Indiana cities and towns, including many that had never been previously visited by any candidate for statewide office. The RV was also featured on television in 26 half-hour reality-style campaign ads dubbed "Mitch TV."
"We took this thing on roads and into places it was never built to go," Daniels said. "It's a wonder it still rolls at all."
No place was off-limits for the Republican candidate, even largely Democratic Lake County. Though, when Daniels' RV pulled up to the Aquatorium in Gary's Marquette Park on May 21, 2004, the first question for the future governor was, "Are you lost?"
"No, we came here on purpose," said Daniels, who pledged to cap property taxes during that visit.
As governor, Daniels has visited Lake County 77 times and traveled to each of Indiana's 92 counties at least five times since 2003.
Daniels said Wednesday, in what may have been a criticism of his successor, Republican Gov.-elect Mike Pence, that a governor should do more to reach out to Hoosiers than appearing at staged events or taking weekend "listening tours."
"I hope, honestly, that there will be a little pressure on future candidates in this state to get out and see their employers and make the effort to put in the miles, put in the time and let people have look at the people who are temporarily in charge of government," Daniels said. "This is everybody's government and everybody, or as many people as humanly possible, ought to have an opportunity to talk to it through the governor, if possible."
Daniels' campaign RV will eventually have a permanent home at the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis.