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Originally published May 12, 2011 at 10:06 PM | Page modified May 12, 2011 at 10:27 PM

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Daniels' spouse may determine presidential bid

Indiana's first lady Cheri Herman Daniels is a "lifelong Hoosier" who has four daughters with Gov. Mitch Daniels.

The Washington Post

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Indiana's first lady Cheri Herman Daniels is a "lifelong Hoosier" who has four daughters with Gov. Mitch Daniels. Her official state website shares that she enjoys reading, golfing, exercising, cooking and spending time with family and friends.

In recent months, she has participated in the "Cheri's Chores" program, in which she acquires new skills. ("Cheri's Chores Assignment 1: Learn how to drive a dump truck and operate a gravel shooter." No. 8: "Learn how to be a lunch lady.")

As she prepared to deliver the keynote address at the Indiana state GOP dinner Thursday night, Cheri Daniels, 61, took on a new task: shaping the Republican presidential field.

"The decision is in the hands of his wife," John Sununu, former New Hampshire Republican governor and a close friend of Daniels, told the website RealClearPolitics in March. "I know for sure she has the final say on this campaign."

If the first lady is the deciding vote, she is not an easy sell. She has expressed reservations about the consequences a presidential bid might have on her family. In a March interview with The Indianapolis Star, she said: "It will be a complete family decision. It affects every single one of my daughters and their families, too. So, yes, we'll be in talks."

In February, the governor told Politico it was "safe to say" his wife wasn't warm to a prospective run. A close aide to Daniels told The Huffington Post this week he would "like to run" but had not persuaded his wife.

The governor's political enemies — eager to box out a promising contender — have not been idle.

A rival campaign has identified the first lady's reticence as a pressure point. The couple have a complicated personal history. They divorced in 1994, and Cheri Daniels moved to California, where she remarried.

The future governor, then a senior executive at the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, raised the couple's four daughters, then ages 8 to 14. Cheri Daniels divorced that man and later returned, and she and Mitch Daniels remarried in 1997.

In exchange for anonymity, an official for another GOP prospect provided contact information for the ex-wife of the man Cheri Daniels married in the years between her divorce and remarriage to Mitch.

Other officials at potential rival campaigns to Mitch Daniels disagreed about whether his wife's personal history would be germane to the race.

Mitch Daniels discussed the situation only once publicly, telling The Indianapolis Star in 2004: "If you like happy endings, you'll love our story. Love and the love of children overcame any problems."

One key adviser to a potential candidate said Cheri Daniels' guardedness about her past signaled a lack of enthusiasm that, more than any personal baggage, would handicap her husband's chances over time. An official at another candidate's campaign said the marital history wouldn't — and shouldn't — matter.

For his part, Mitch Daniels opted to shut his eyes to the less noble aspects of presidential politics.

Spokeswoman Jane Jankowski said, "Gov. Daniels chooses to believe that no candidate would employ such tactics, and if someone working for a candidate did such a thing, it must not have been authorized."

It was in this context that Cheri Daniels delivered her keynote speech Thursday to state Republicans. And she gave no hint about her thoughts on the matter.

After being introduced by her husband — as the crowd of about 1,000 people cheered and held signs saying "Run Mitch Run" — she joked about her "glamorous" role and showed the crowd photos of her with sports-team mascots 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, meanwhile, said again that he had not made a decision, although the state Republican Party made its position clear as it handed out green signs to the crowd of more than 1,000 people and a group of college students presented him with petitions to run.

Material from The Associated Press and The New York Times is included in this report.

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