Spin Cycle

05.10.11

Is Cheri Daniels Ready for Prime Time?

Cheri Daniels takes center stage amid questions about her marriage to Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.

Of the many presidential prospects with colorful marital histories, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ is perhaps the most unusual. He is married for the second time to his wife—who had another husband in between.

Cheri and Mitch Daniels married in 1978, while he was working as a Senate aide. In 1994, Cheri left her husband and four daughters, then aged 8 to 14, to move to California and marry another man. Then she divorced him and, in 1997, remarried Daniels.

It’s complicated, as they say on Facebook, and not something anyone feels much like discussing.

That would include Cheri Daniels, who, according to media reports, has never talked publicly about that period in her life.

It would include Mitch Daniels, whose entire commentary on the matter appears to be limited to this 2004 remark to the Indianapolis Star: "If you like happy endings, you'll love our story. Love and the love of children overcame any problems."

It would seem to include, at least until now, many in the media. How else to explain why the couple’s unusual marital history is not mentioned until word No. 8,257 of an 8,641-word profile in The Weekly Standard? I’m not making this up. I know, The Weekly Standard is not People or US Weekly. But Standard readers can’t live by policy alone, and this is at the very least a fascinating tidbit.

There is much anticipation in Indiana this week because Cheri Daniels, introduced by her husband, is going to give the keynote speech Thursday at the state Republican Party dinner. It is a first for her. “She’s obviously given speeches before, but not to a crowd this size or in this type of venue,” says party spokesman Pete Seat. The venue is a huge ballroom, tickets—still selling—are priced from $200 to $5,000, and the audience is on pace to top 1,000. Seat says Cheri Daniels has already out-drawn the star attraction at the party’s October dinner. That was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

There’s no indication that Cheri, who has promoted fitness, heart health, education, and literacy, will do anything but what her office has said she’ll do. That is, share stories and observations from her years as first lady of Indiana. Nobody is expecting her to announce she’s given her husband the go-ahead.

Still, everyone will be looking for clues. And the first clue is simply her presence. This is a woman who has made clear she doesn’t like politics. In 2004, during Daniels’ first campaign for governor, she told the Star that she told her husband during their dating days that “I am not a political person. I do not eat and breathe this, and I do not care to.”

Mitch Daniels has projected deep ambivalence about running, and his family is a central reason. He has said his wife and daughters are “terrified” at the prospect of intense media scrutiny. “It scares them to death. And it should,” he explained. The Huffington Post reported Tuesday that the last remaining unresolved issue for Daniels is whether Cheri is ready to face questions about the couple’s past.

In a national campaign, there’s no way the couple could avoid addressing their marital history. Their best option would be to go the Bill and Hillary Clinton route: Appear on a national television program like 60 Minutes to tell their story the way they want it told, and consider the matter closed. That might stem the questions. I’m betting it would also give Daniels more depth as a person, and broaden his appeal. It’s not like voters don’t get that marriage has its ups and downs. And this is, in the end, a tale of two people who found their way back to each other.