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Getting to Yes for Mitch and Cheri Daniels

Getting to Yes for Mitch and Cheri Daniels

By Erin McPike - May 13, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS -- When the Indiana Republican Party found itself in a bind this spring, unable to lock down a high-profile keynote speaker for its big annual fundraising dinner, it was Gov. Mitch Daniels himself who came up with the solution: He'd get his wife, Cheri, to do it.

It was a bold move, considering that she had never given a high-profile speech before and generally has been reluctant to step  onto the political stage. At the same time, her husband has been pondering a 2012 presidential bid (pondering it for the better part of 18 months, in fact) and the potential candidate himself has hinted that Cheri's the one person who could stop him -- because she's been described as uncomfortable about the intrusion such a campaign would have on their lives.

In recent months, though, Cheri Daniels has been upping her appearances, and at the meticulously timed and well-choreographed dinner before a record audience of 1,100 on Thursday evening, she strode onto the stage in fire-engine red, hiding no more.

What Mrs. Daniels offered was less of a speech and more of an introductory presentation -- pictures and videos chronicling her life as first lady of Indiana. Known to her friends as "F.L." (for "First Lady"), Cheri was shown milking a cow, operating a dump truck and parading around the state fair. Her husband, a favorite of elites, hasn't officially decided whether he'll jump into the presidential race, but she's already being rolled out as a woman of the people.

The event, though, seemed just as much like a sales pitch to Mrs. Daniels to show her that the water is fine. She walked to the microphone to the song "Sherry." "That's one of my favorite songs!" she exclaimed. "This might be easier than I thought it was going to be."

Before the dinner, Mitch Daniels met with a group of 55 college students who flew to Indianapolis for the event and presented him with a petition of several thousand signatures urging him to run for president. He told the group he couldn't tell them yet whether he would be a candidate, because "I don't know where my family will come down on this."

The glaring reason for the family's hesitation is a 1990s gap in the couple's marriage, when Mrs. Daniels divorced the now-governor and fled to California with a doctor, who was married at the time. Mrs. Daniels returned to Indiana several years later and remarried Mitch. It has long been assumed that the experience is a painful one for the couple that they do not like speaking about publicly.

But it may be less about the questions awaiting the Danielses in a nationally televised interview, which they undoubtedly will have to do if he runs. Instead, the concern may revolve more around others who were affected by the situation.

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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