Is Cheri Daniels a good 'political wife'?

Cheri Daniels, first lady of Indiana, usually keeps a low political profile. But as Gov. Mitch Daniels weighs a presidential run, all eyes will be on her Thursday as she speaks before the state GOP.

Michael Conroy/AP
In this Jan. 11 file photo, Cheri Daniels, wife of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, is introduced before her husband's State of the State address at the Statehouse in Indianapolis.

Will Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) run for president?

All eyes will be on his wife, Cheri Daniels, Thursday night for clues when she addresses the spring dinner of the Indiana Republican Party in Indianapolis. Mrs. Daniels doesn’t care for politics and usually keeps a low profile. But as her husband considers his political future – and the clamor for him to run grows in influential GOP circles – the Cheri Daniels question looms large.

The trickiest issue is the Daniels' past: As they say on Facebook and in the recent movie about it, “It’s complicated.” In the 1990s, Cheri Daniels left her husband and their four daughters, ages 8 to 14, moved to California, and married another man. Three years later, she returned to Mitch and their family.

Governor Daniels has discussed the matter publicly only once. “If you like happy endings, you’ll love our story,” he told the Indianapolis Star in 2004. “Love and the love of children overcame any problems.”

Mrs. Daniels is not expected to discuss the divorce and remarriage Thursday evening. After all, it’s really nobody’s business. But in political life, the role of spouses is huge. And in modern history, it’s hard to point to a successful presidential candidate whose wife did not play an active role – both in his campaign and then his presidency. Laura Bush once made her husband promise that she would never have to give a speech – but as first lady, she gave hundreds and became an effective advocate for her causes. Michelle Obama was cool to the idea of a presidential campaign, but she eventually came around and became her husband’s best advocate.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell didn’t run for president, in part because his wife was adamantly opposed. More recently, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour opted out of the 2012 race not long after his wife, Marsha, told a TV interviewer that the thought of her husband running for president horrified her. A high-profile political job can be hard on a marriage. The recent separation of former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, may speak to that.

Even if Cheri Daniels gives the green light, it’s not clear to people who know the governor that he is willing to put her and their family through the relentless scrutiny. All along, Daniels has shown a hesitancy about running; he hasn’t done much behind-the-scenes organizing. The family factor may be one more element weighing against.

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