By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels said on Sunday he has decided not to seek the Republican presidential nomination due to family considerations, further weakening the party's field of candidates.
With Daniels becoming the latest high-profile politician to bow out, Republicans may look to a late entrant to provide the star power many say is lacking in the current crop of hopefuls for the 2012 nomination.
"In the end, I was able to resolve every competing consideration but one, but that, the interests and wishes of my family, is the most important consideration of all," Daniels said in an email to supporters.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has been leading some early polls for the nomination, although he has yet to formally enter the race. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty will announce his bid at a campaign event in Iowa on Monday.
Republican candidate Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives who entered the race two weeks ago, has had a rocky start having drawn the ire of fellow conservatives by criticizing a Republican plan to overhaul the Medicare health insurance program for the elderly.
Several prominent Republicans, including former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, have decided not to join the race to see who faces Democratic President Barack Obama next year.
Daniels, a budget director in the administration of President George W. Bush, has built a reputation as a fiscal conservative and one who could challenge Obama on issues like the ballooning deficit and the lackluster economy thought to be critical to the election.
With Daniels not running, Republicans will be looking for a new face.
"I think it's going to regenerate a search for another candidate, it's just inevitable," said Larry Sabato, professor of political science at the University of Virginia.
"They want a strong candidate to run and they think the candidates in the field now all are flawed," he said.
Sabato said there will be renewed pressure on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a combative former prosecutor who has made cutting government spending his top priority, to enter the race. Christie has said he would not be a candidate.
Conservative political analyst William Kristol in his Weekly Standard blog put the odds at better than 50-50 that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a rising star in the party, and Texas Governor Rick Perry would join the race.
"It would be unfair to call the current field a vacuum. But it doesn't exactly represent an overflowing of political talent," he said.
Ryan told NBC's "Meet the Press" program on Sunday, however, that he was not planning on seeking the nomination.
Many Republicans had said Daniels' wife, Cheri, had been cool to the idea of his running because it could have shed light on previous marital difficulties.
Cheri Daniels filed for divorce from Mitch Daniels in 1993 and moved to California where she married another man while Daniels looked after their four young daughters. That couple divorced, and Cheri and Mitch Daniels remarried in 1997.
Ryan said he was disappointed Daniels decided not to run. "I think his candidacy would have been a great addition to this race and I think it's unfortunate that he's not going to run," he said.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner, Eric Walsh and Andy Sullivan; Editing by Eric Beech)