Indiana’s First Lady to Deliver Rare Speech at Republican Fundraiser

May 12, 2011 - 10:26 AM

Indianapolis (AP) - As governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels gives speeches every week. But few of his addresses have attracted as much interest as the one his wife, Cheri, will deliver Thursday at a state Republican Party fundraiser in Indianapolis.

The low-key first lady's keynote address -- one of the few she's agreed to give during her husband's political career -- will be watched for signs of whether Daniels will enter the 2012 race for president. Her aversion to politicking is well known, and the appearance is a chance for her to gauge her comfort level with the spotlight of a national campaign.

"It's no secret that family comes first with me," said Daniels, who is being encouraged to run by some influential Republicans. "This is a not a mountain you jump off of by yourself." He is expected to make a decision in the next few weeks, and has said the impact on his family is his chief concern.

Cheri Daniels has appeared rarely at campaign functions during her husband's two runs for governor. As first lady of Indiana, she has been visible at occasional civic functions and in schools, where she reads to children to promote literacy. She makes a monthly appearance on an Indianapolis radio show and is the unofficial ambassador to the Indiana State Fair, where she's often found milking cows or spitting watermelon seeds.

Daniels is well aware of the microscope his family -- including their now-grown daughters -- would be under should he decide to run. He told The Associated Press in 2009 that "the level of not just scrutiny, but savagery is the word that comes to mind, that has attached itself to national politics is pretty sobering." He added, "I mean, we've not just seen people's own personal backgrounds but their spouses and even their children get dragged into this."

There is a sticky personal issue that the couple has never addressed publicly but that would be part of the coverage of a presidential candidate's life. Cheri Daniels filed for divorce in 1993 and moved to California to remarry, leaving him to raise their four daughters in Indiana. She later divorced, and she and Daniels reconciled and remarried in 1997.

Her husband has said only that people who like a good love story would love theirs.

Many governors' spouses keep a low profile, but the spouses of presidential candidates usually play a role in the campaign. In the 2012 race, Mary Pawlenty, a former judge, has helped her husband, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, campaign in Iowa, site of the first presidential nomination contest next year. Rep. Michele Bachmann's husband, Marcus Bachmann, has joined her on trips to key states as she considers a run.

And former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who announced his candidacy Wednesday, featured a photo of himself and wife, Callista, on his campaign web site.

Not every Republican spouse has taken to the role, however. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour's wife, Marsha, said in April that the thought of being part of a presidential race "horrifies" her. Barbour later announced he would not run.

Republican staffers say Cheri Daniels won't address her husband's presidential ambitions during Thursday's GOP dinner, and said the timing was coincidental.  "I think the state Republican party was looking around and trying to figure out who would be a good speaker and really thought people in attendance would enjoy hearing what she had to say," said Julie Kirby, Cheri Daniels' chief of staff.

As first lady, Cheri Daniels has carved out a niche promoting women's heart health, children's literacy and the Indiana State Fair.

Asked whether the GOP speech was the start of a more public role for his wife, Mitch Daniels said, "No. Unless you go the state fair, in which case you can't miss her because she's there every single day."

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Associated Press writer Brian Bakst in Minneapolis contributed to this story.