Gov. Daniels says White House speculation reinforced Syrian roots

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) said the increased notoriety from speculation he may run for president has helped him reconnect with his Syrian ancestors.

Daniels, whose paternal grandparents emigrated from Syria to western Pennsylvania, said the new connections have also deepened his concern for the country's people.

While accepting an award for public service Wednesday from the Arab American Institute at a dinner in Washington, Daniels told the audience how speculation he may seek the GOP's 2012 White House nomination was covered in the Syrian press, which prompted two people to contact him.

"I got emails from people there who had seen this story and found a way to reach me," he said. "It's been a great, great matter to me. I have new pictures, I have new information about the village [where Daniels's grandfather grew up]. Potentially, some new connections to distant family members that we didn't have before."

Daniels said he has watched the anti-government protests in Syria unfold with trepidation because of his new connections.

"The same stirrings, the same yearning for freedom that has burst loose elsewhere in the Middle East has come to Syria," he said. "I have now been sending emails not merely inquiring about family connections and about developments in the village, but to make sure everybody's alright, to make sure that everyone's safe."

Daniels said he's "proud" that "brave Syrians have stepped forward, as their Egyptian and Tunisian and other counterparts have, and against apparently brutal threats and repression, have stood up for the right to dream and to live free and to try to pursue better lives for themselves."

The governor compared the desire to challenge Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime with the desire of his grandfather to move to America.

"May Syria, and all the lands near it, soon become places of peace and freedom and self determination," he said, calling for the United States to remain a "welcoming home" for those with similar aspirations. 

Daniels's grandfather, Elias Esau Daniels, came to the United States in 1905 "penniless and illiterate," according to the governor. But after running a successful pool hall, and a "numbers racket," Daniels's grandfather grew wealthy enough to become the benefactor of a hospital in his home village in Syria. "I love the story of our family," said Daniels, who pledged to continue to support the hospital.