INDIANAPOLIS – The wife of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels offered few clues about her husband's presidential ambitions Thursday night during a rare albeit largely apolitical address to state Republicans, but the high-profile and closely followed appearance generated speculation anyway.
"In the past the keynote speaker has always given a politically inspired speech," Cheri Daniels told the crowd of more than 1,000 people. "If you came here expecting that, I'm sorry."
Daniels, whose aversion to the spotlight was as much a topic of the night as her love of the state fair and all things farming, has held something of a veto over Mitch Daniels' decision of whether he will run for president.
Mitch Daniels said again Thursday he had not yet made a decision — although the state Republican party made its position clear, as it handed out green signs that read, "Run Mitch Run."
"She's different, you know, than the more political first ladies of the past," Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman said after Cheri Daniels' 29-minute speech. "While she has never sought out the spotlight I know how much she does, I know how much she cares. I know how much she travels across the state of Indiana."
The first lady joked about her "glamorous" role in the state. She showed the crowd photos of her with sports team mascots, dressing up with the governor for Halloween and milking a cow at the state fair.
"The best thing about being first lady is there's no job description," she said.
Mitch Daniels 14-minute introduction of his wife carried more political insight than her speech, but it too gave few signals about his future political ambitions. He said he made a pact with his wife when he decided in 2003 that he would run for governor, telling her he "would never ask you to go anywhere you don't want to go."
That pact has worked for the last eight years, but he said it would probably be harder to maintain that if he runs for president.
"We were able to do it our way here," he said. "Life might not let you the same way there."
John von Arx, who has worked for both the governor and the first lady, said the promise made in between the Daniels' in 2003 shows that if they can make the same promise again he could successfully run for president.
"You have to read a little bit between the lines," von Arx said.
Even if the Daniels weren't talking about a White House run, members of the crow showed plenty of support. Some wore buttons saying "Mitch Daniels for President," and a group of college students presenting him with petitions to run. As Mitch Daniels took the stage to introduce his wife, people cheered and held signs saying "Run Mitch Run."
The governor appeared following a short video introduction, similar to a striking 2008 Daniels campaign ad, featuring dramatic music as statements of his accomplishments flash across the screen.
Cheri Daniels' aversion to politicking is well known, and the appearance Thursday was a chance for her to gauge her comfort level with the spotlight of a national campaign.
"She's not this typical political wife, and that's OK," said Kathy Hubbard, a Daniels friend who attended the speech. "I think the public understands it."
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."
He elaborated on that before Thursday night's speech.
"It's no secret that family comes first with me," the governor said. "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.
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.
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