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Daniels urges Republican field: Don't play it safe

Daniels speaks at the Conservative Political Action conference (CPAC) dinner in Washington
Daniels speaks at the Conservative Political Action conference (CPAC) dinner in Washington

By Steve Holland

ORLANDO, Fla (Reuters) - Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels opted to stay out of the 2012 Republican presidential campaign but has some advice for those who are in it: Don't play it safe.

Daniels told Reuters on Friday he was not hearing enough detailed economic proposals from Republican candidates on how they would rebuild the economy.

Daniels did not name names, but a case in point may have come on Thursday night at a candidates' debate in Orlando.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is leading in polls, said he would propose a jobs plan later. Rival Mitt Romney has announced an extensive plan to trigger economic growth but it has received mixed reviews.

Daniels has a national following among Republicans for issuing a clarion call for bold steps to reign in the federal government and reduce the "red menace" of crippling debt.

He wrote a book, "Keeping the Republic -- Saving America by Trusting Americans," outlining ways to get the country moving again and is on an extensive media tour to promote it.

Daniels said he has deep doubts that Democratic President Barack Obama will lead the country toward renewal and he dismissed Obama's jobs speech to a joint session of Congress earlier this month as "incredibly backward-looking and intentionally divisive."

Given Obama's political weakness, Republican candidates could run to unseat him simply by denouncing the president's record and policies, an option Daniels said should be avoided.

"I'll tell you what's been troubling me a little bit," he said by telephone. "As the failure of the president's policies becomes more clear and as the economy continues to struggle, which I'm sorry to say I think it will, there could be a temptation on the part of our nominee to win by playing it safe and just say, 'Look, I'm not him, vote for me.'"

"That may be well enough, but I think it would miss a huge opportunity ... to try to call forth the best of Americans and try to get a significant coalition together in this country, people who may disagree about other things strongly, to tackle the debt problem we've piled up, to tackle the goal of establishing economic growth as the overwhelming national priority as it must be," he said.

What Daniels said he wants to hear are clear policies for reforming America's safety-net programs, advancing a "pro-growing, pro-jobs tax reform" and taking a strong stance for halting "expensive and job-killing" federal regulations.

Daniels was noncommittal on whether he would endorse a candidate before a nominee is clear. "I might or I might not," he said.

The governor earlier this year decided not to run in 2012, citing family concerns, and he did not wish to talk about speculation that he could be a possibility for the Republican vice presidential nominee once the party picks its candidate to run against Obama in November 2012.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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