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How Hannah Thoreson handled Mitch Daniels' disappointing dropout decision

May 24, 2011 |  3:48 am

Hannah Thoreson with Mitch Daniels 5-11

The media spotlight has moved on from Indianapolis now, after Gov. Mitch Daniels aborted his anticipated campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in a Saturday midnight email that shocked supporters across the country.

Daniels acknowledged that his family was opposed to the grinding run, so he dropped it.

Now most of the attention focuses on Newt Gingrich's campaign here and Tim Pawlenty's newly announced bid here and Jon Huntsman's informal campaign swing through New Hampshire.

But little noticed as the political parade marches toward the state fairs this summer and the Iowa caucuses and primaries next winter are the newly abandoned supporters of Daniels.

"Well," said Max Eden, head of the Student Initiative to Draft Daniels, "the rapture took Mitch from 2012. His better angels had the last word, and he put his family first. His choice attests to half the reason why students at 65 colleges rallied to urge him to run: He is a good man."

Among those students is Hannah Thoreson, a 21-year-old physics major at ....

... Arizona State University. Hers is the kind of energy, idealism, interest and youthfully earnest commitment that virtually every major American political campaign runs on.

Paying them little if anything, the political efforts offer the young people an opportunity to participate in something big, to learn real politics in action, making thousands of grassroots calls, going door to door, gathering petitions and working 16- or 18-hour days when election times roll around.Indiana Republican governor mitch Daniels greets president Obama 5-6-11

"It seemed like fiscal issues are our country's top priority right now," Thoreson said. "He was the candidate to tackle them head-on. And he lacked the capacity to alienate independents."

Thoreson comes from a Republican family in rural North Dakota and considers herself "an old-school conservative" favoring reduced spending and taxes.

She found herself following the news from junior high on, joining the high school debate team to practice forging arguments, gradually drifting toward politics. And gradually becoming more concerned in recent years.

"Right now," she says, " I am very worried. We are not 'too big to fail' as a nation."

Last year, Thoreson read a Weekly Standard article that piqued her interest in Daniels as a successful governor who had put practical problem-solving ahead of superficial ideological tests.

In previous years, Thoreson had been disappointed in the parties. "Sarah Palin terrified me," said Thoreson. "It was just McCain desperation." As a protest to the Iraq and Afghan wars and politics as usual, she voted for Ron Paul in North Dakota's 2008 primary.

"I believe in peace through strength," Thoreson adds, "not unending wars because America has the hammer and we see everybody else's problems as nails to pound in. Focus on the great power threats, not dropping bombs on people who don't even have running water."

She focused these concerns in volunteer work on congressional campaigns last year, making thousands of calls from computer lists to check the leanings of potential voters. She put in at least 15 hours a week on that, in addition to her full class load.

Through Twitter and Facebook Thoreson met dozens of like-minded students around the country, who began collecting signatures on Draft Daniels petitions. She quickly learned that political science classes were much more fertile ground than the student union, where most brushed her off in advance as "a liberal tree-hugger."Indiana governor mitch Daniels on his Harley

Earlier this month, Thoreson took $220 from her savings to buy an airline ticket to Indianapolis for one night to attend the Indiana Republican Party convention and hear Daniels speak.

Afterward Daniels' student supporters from numerous states went for beer.

Lo and behold, who should walk in but the maybe candidate himself. Relaxed with tie down, Daniels chatted with his excited would-be supporters, answered questions and posed for hasty cellphone photos. "He's such a good thinker," Thoreson recalls. "You can see his mind working."

Thoreson, of course, had her "Run Mitch" sign and was thinking ahead in case she did get a chance to meet him. It was her question -- who would Daniels choose as his VP? -- that produced the night's news, Condoleeza Rice.

Next day, the tired students flew back to their campuses even more excited by the possibilities of joining a national calling -- until Tweet rumors began flying late Saturday that their man was quitting. Not possible, Thoreson first thought.

But within seven or eight minutes came Daniels' typically humble but extremely disappointing email. "It was crushing," she recalls.

So, now what for this potential political soldier?

"I think I'll just watch and see who does what," she says, "who emerges as the fiscal conservative." She'll study Huntsman and Pawlenty and even Mitt Romney reluctantly, as those who've run states as laboratories of democracy.

Right now, her dream candidate would be another governor, Texas' Rick Perry, who says he's not running. Thoreson, however, thinks he might make a move come summer.

After every political campaign -- and she's worked on them since 2008 -- Thoreson swears she's through with politics. In fact, she said it again last night.

Just before adding enthusiastically that, sure, she'd be delighted to volunteer for Rick Perry sometime.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Somebody in the bar (Thoreson and Daniels); Charles Dharapak / Associated Press; Governor's office.