Daniels closer to deciding on presidential bid

Gov. Mitch Daniels speaks at the state Republican Party fundraiser in Indianapolis, May 12, 2011. AP Photo/Darron Cummings

Gov. Mitch Daniels speaks at the state Republican Party fundraiser in Indianapolis, May 12, 2011.
AP Photo/Darron Cummings

Updated May 13, 1:30 p.m. ET

INDIANAPOLIS -- With 1,100 people chanting "Run Mitch, Run," Gov. Mitch Daniels took the stage here Thursday night and did something he's never done before: He introduced his wife Cheri, and then he turned the microphone over to her to address the sold-out crowd.

It was Cheri Daniels' first-ever speech at a big political event in all the years she has been Indiana's First Lady. And with speculation over whether her husband will enter the presidential race now at a fever-pitch, her mere presence at the podium for the annual state GOP dinner had everyone searching for clues and hidden meanings. The question was heard over and over: Did her willingness to step into the limelight after years as a reluctant First Lady mean she was on board with Daniels making a bid for the White House?

Daniels, who asked his wife to give the speech, didn't rule it out.

"This whole business of running for national office--I'm not saying I won't do it," he said, triggering loud applause.

Daniels, who was President Bush's budget director and has earned a reputation in Indiana for fiscal discipline, said afterward that a decision will come within weeks--and that it remains the subject of ongoing talks between his wife and their four daughters.

"It's closer to a decision. We owe the people and answer. If we're going to do it, we have to get on the road to do it," Daniels told reporters who crowded around him after the event.

Will Mitch Daniels lead the GOP in 2012?

Reflecting what many observers see as weak Republican field, the pressure on Daniels to run has been intense. He has been assured backing from big-money donors who supported George W. Bush, in addition to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, as well as top sitting Republican governors.

Sources tell CBS News popular New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has told Daniels he would back him, as would Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

And as a sign of how important his wife is to the decision, sources tell CBS News that even former First Lady Laura Bush has called Cheri Daniels personally to encourage her to support the effort and offer advice on how to define what her role on the campaign--and potentially in the White House--would be.

Cheri Daniels, who admitted afterward she was "nervous" about her talk--a humorous take on the so-called "glamorous" life of a First Lady--also told reporters of the family pressures. "We're having a lot of talks," she said. "It's not just me. I have four daughters, and I have three sons-in-law, and everybody has a voice."

It's well-known in Indiana that Cheri Daniels, 61, is no fan of politics. Instead of big political events, she prefers things like the state fair (where she participates in watermelon seed spitting contests and cow-milking contests) and giving talks to local women's groups, where she talks about promoting literacy and fighting heart disease, her two main causes.

What's more, the couple has a personal relationship that can only be described as complicated. They divorced in 1994, and Cheri Daniels married an old boyfriend, only to divorce him and remarry Mitch Daniels in 1997. Neither of them discuss that time in their lives publicly. Daniels told the Indianapolis Star in 2004: "If you like happy endings, you'll love our story. Love and the love of children overcame any problems."

Introducing his wife Thursday night, Daniels talked about how they met in the mid-70s when both were working here--and how he later managed to persuade her to support his gubernatorial run, which he said "was not her first choice."

He said he told her then he was going to run a different kind of campaign.

"There is no rulebook for this, as far as I am concerned," he recounted telling Cheri in 2003. "I don't want you to be any different than you are."

And eight years later, Daniels said, he has held up his end of the deal.

"If she shows up somewhere, it's because she wants to be there," he said. "I just love the way she's handled this role."

In her speech Thursday night, Cheri talked about her life as first lady before closing with an intriguing remark:

"I truly appreciate the encouragement you have given Mitch," she said.

With most of the 1,100 people holding "Run Mitch Run" signs, she didn't explain what "encouragement" she meant.

Update: We reported last night that Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels had been told privately he would get support from prominent Republican governors, including New Jersey's Chris Christie, Wisconsin's Scott Walker and Mississippi's Haley Barbour. This morning, the offices of Christie and Walker released public statements that such talk was premature and that no endorsement decisions had been made. Those statements aren't surprising--especially with former Gov. Minnesota Tim Pawlenty actually in the race and actively vying for support--and picking up donors by the day.

  • Jan Crawford On Twitter» On Facebook»

    Jan Crawford is CBS News Chief Political and Legal Correspondent. She is from "Crossroads," Alabama.

Comments

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.