Indiana's first lady enters the political fray with a smile

Cheri Daniels introduced herself to a national audience Thursday with a lighthearted speech recapping her years as Indiana's first lady.

Her keynote address to the state GOP's spring dinner in Indianapolis was not overtly political, despite the crowd of activists waiting for some hint about whether her husband, Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), is edging toward a presidential bid. But it could be seen as a first step toward becoming a surrogate for the governor, should he decide to run. 

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"In the past, the keynote speaker for this event has always given a very politically inspired speech," Cheri Daniels said. "Well, if you came here tonight expecting that, I'm sorry to report that you will be disappointed. But if you came here tonight with a sense of humor, you're going to have a really good time."

Using videos and pictures, Cheri Daniels recapped many of the appearances she made as first lady, the awards she'd received — "honorary Hooters girl" being one of them — and the causes she supported. She talked about the state fair, and picking out Halloween costumes with her husband.

"It's not easy being the first lady," she said.

It wasn't the sort of speech that typically attracts national attention. But the first lady is famous for avoiding political functions. She didn't campaign with her husband during his two successful runs for governor; this was widely regarded as her introduction to the political world as Mitch Daniels mulls a bid for the GOP's 2012 presidential nomination.

Moreover, the Daniels's relationship is considered by some observers to be a potential vulnerability, should he decide to run. The couple, who have four daughters together, divorced and then later remarried in the 1990s. During their four years apart, Cheri Daniels moved to California and remarried, but she subsequently divorced her second husband and reunited with the governor. 

Mitch Daniels, who rarely talks about those years, usually explains their relationship by saying, “If you like happy endings, you’ll love our story.”

The governor's potential rivals have also taken note of their non-traditional love story. The Washington Post reported this week that an official for another GOP prospect offered a reporter the contact information for the ex-wife of the man Cheri Daniels married and lived with in California, in a bid to flesh out a story on their relationship.

During Thursday's event, a campaign-style video touting the milestones of Mitch Daniels's two terms in office played for the audience before the governor came to the stage to introduce his wife. "We are a party of ideas," he said of the state GOP, not "red meat." 

While addressing this "whole business about running for national office," Daniels offered few clues about his intentions. "I'm not saying that I won't do it," he said.

He also poked fun at his image in the press. "I've got to be the homeliest, most boring person that's ever been talked about for president, according to the things that I read," he said.