Cheri Daniels keynote speech not political, but makes clear that she is not embarrassed to be in the spotlight

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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Mitch Daniels did not announce his candidacy for president Thursday night.

Despite rampant speculation all this week, Daniels’ wife Cheri’s keynote address at the Indiana Republican Party’s Spring Dinner was exactly what he said it would be: a nice, fun speech about what it’s like to be first lady of Indiana.

Neither Mitch nor his wife discussed the uncomfortable episode in their marital history when she divorced him and married another man, before remarrying him four years later. Cheri Daniels also did not indicate that she had decided she was fully in favor of her husband running for president.

What the Daniels’ did do was address the fact that Cheri is notoriously shy of politics. Many have speculated that this has to do with a desire to avoid answering uncomfortable questions about their marriage. But the governor and his wife made clear Thursday night that while she might avoid the spotlight often, it’s not because she doesn’t know what to do when she’s in it.

Introducing his wife to an audience holding signs that said, “Run, Mitch, Run,” and chanting similarly encouraging remarks, Daniels stuck to his usual message.

“I’m not saying I want to do it,” Daniels said of the prospect of running for president.

“I always thought when I was done being governor I’d like to go to some quiet place, where nobody could find me,” he said. “Like Al Gore’s TV network.”

Referring to some of the press he’s gotten, Daniels quipped that he was starting to think, “I’ve got to be the homeliest, most boring person ever talked about for president.”

He acknowledged that his wife had often not been present for political moments in his career, and that she had rarely sought out the limelight during her time as first lady. But, he said, her elusiveness lends sincerity to her actions.

“When she shows up somewhere, everybody knows immediately she wants to be there,” he said, suggesting that Cheri, who walked on stage moments later to “Sherry” by Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, definitely wanted to be there.

Cheri, for her part, made clear early on that her speech would not be political.

She said that she knew that the speaker at this dinner usually gave a political speech. “Well, if you came here tonight expecting that, I’m sorry to report that you’ll be disappointed,” she said. “But if you came here tonight with a sense of humor, you’re going to have a really good time.”

Daniels then proceeded to talk about her time as first lady, showing slide shows and videos of her and Mitch doing silly stuff, like participating in a cow-milking competition or dressed up for Halloween. She talked about her interest in promoting literacy and heart health.

Concluding her speech, she seemed to echo her husband’s sentiments that just because she hadn’t been in the spotlight as much as first lady’s traditionally are, it didn’t mean she wasn’t up to the task.

Luckily for her, she said, ‘first lady’ is “not a job description. You can do with it what you want to do.”

Daniels is certainly doing just that. She told the audience that, among other things, “I am an honorary Hooters girl.”