INDIANAPOLIS - When Mitt Romney arrived here Friday to meet Indianapolis Republicans, the party's biggest star, Gov. Mitch Daniels, was out of town on a book tour. But that didn't stop the GOP presidential contender from invoking the name of the popular governor, whose decision not to pursue his own White House ambitions may have helped Romney's.
Speaking before about 400 party activists in a downtown ballroom, Romney sprinkled flattering references to Daniels through an otherwise standard stump speech. Asked afterward by the locals whether he'd consider their governor as a vice presidential running mate, Romney was encouraging but non-committal.
"Where's Mitch in your government?" one gladhander wondered. "Wherever he'd like to be," answered Romney. "Mitch is an extraordinarily capable guy."
Like Romney, Daniels is a favorite of the GOP establishment; his decision not to make the presidential race for family reasons disappointed many who saw the former White House budget director as an innovative thinker and bold truth-teller on the deficit. But he also has infuriated some conservatives in his party with his call for a "truce" on social issues to focus on the nation's fiscal crisis and blunt warning that an emphasis on ideological purity will turn off the swing voters the GOP needs to win.
Daniels' endorsement will be coveted by many GOP hopefuls but in Washington on Friday he remained strictly neutral.
On the stump, Romney has made his success as a businessman his calling card, but a number of Republicans here said they are most impressed with his record rescuing the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City from scandal.
"He had a huge problem to deal with. He was kind of thrust into it," said Wayne Baer, a Romney supporter who described himself as a Republican moderate. "We've got a lot of problems on a bigger scale, but you know, I like that. I think he can handle anything."
The Olympics are a topic with special resonance in Indiana, which saw dreams for economic development and business opportunities go down the train when neighboring Chicago lost its bid for the 2016 games.
Romney's appearance here is part of a series of get-togethers the Indiana Republican Party is hosting for presidential hopefuls. So far, the local GOP has hosted Herman Cain and Jon Huntsman. Rick Perry is scheduled to visit next month.
After his speech here and two fundraisers, Romney was heading to Michigan. He'll address a convention of Republican activists in the state where he grew up Saturday evening.