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Why Mitch Daniels Said No

By Erin McPike - May 22, 2011

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The woman, who asked that her name not be used in order to protect her privacy, said she is a conservative and thought Daniels would make an excellent president. She even said she would vote for him. At the same time, she made it clear that she blames Cheri Daniels for breaking up her own family, and she speculated that the Danielses got back together at Mitch Daniels' urging because of his political ambitions -- such as his gubernatorial run.

She's not the only person who warned that details of the split are not the kind of biographical background a presidential candidate likes to deal with during a campaign roll-out. Daniels' own divorce lawyer has privately hinted to some Washington insiders that the particulars of the break-up were so messy that it would indeed be a problem if the two-term governor ran for president.

(The governor came to his wife's defense in a statement he released late Saturday to the Indianapolis Star. He said “the notion that Cheri ever did or would ‘abandon’ her girls or parental duty is the reverse of the truth and absurd to anyone who knows her, as I do, to be the best mother any daughter ever had.”

(He further explained that when he and Cheri parted, “the court agreed with my view that our daughters’ best interests would be served by their staying in Indiana. Cheri and I were granted joint custody. Within a short time, she purchased a residence just a few minutes from our house. Until we remarried, we shared custody fully, the girls dividing their time between the two houses.”)

Some supporters, including former John McCain aide Mark Salter, had urged Daniels to run regardless of his marital history, suggesting that it was virtually his duty to do so. In his statement to backers, Daniels acknowledged this sentiment, saying, "If I have disappointed you, I will always be sorry. If you feel that this was a non-courageous or unpatriotic decision, I understand and will not attempt to persuade you otherwise. I only hope that you will accept my sincerity in the judgment I reached."

Daniels' exit is surely welcome news to some of the other candidates, particularly Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney -- who would have competed directly for voters and donors with him in New Hampshire -- and perhaps for Tim Pawlenty as well. In his famously blunt talk about the danger of rampant deficit spending, the Indiana governor had already staked out a place for himself in the field as kind of a fiscal moralist.

But it's not just a candidate's policy positions that are up for scrutiny in a presidential run, as Huntsman himself noted at an event with members of the Windham, N.H., GOP on Saturday. He said that politicians are crazy to run for president, and indicated that the process can break up families.

Whatever their private views are of Daniels' defection, however, the other candidates took the high road Sunday.

"Mitch Daniels will be missed in this presidential debate, but his message about the most immediate threat facing our nation -- the massive debt -- will not go unheard," Hunstman said in a statement. "Our country owes Gov. Daniels unending gratitude for his service, and the steadfast manner in which he's shined a light on the crippling debt that we will leave behind for future generations if it's not addressed."

Said Pawlenty: "Mitch Daniels is a friend of mine and one of the best governors in the country. While he may not be running, he is an intellectual powerhouse and will continue to play a leading role in the party's politics and the nation's policies. Mitch and I agree that America's out-of-control national debt is a threat to our nation's future, and that the next president must restore fiscal responsibility in Washington, D.C. Mary and I wish Cheri and Mitch all the best."

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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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