The Sleazy Political Games Surrounding Mitch Daniels' Marital History

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels should have joined the presidential race by this point. Economic conservatives like him, he's beginning to mend fences with social conservatives, his close friend Haley Barbour won't run against him, and most importantly, the D.C. establishment glorifies him as a very serious, fiscally responsible Grown-Up. So what's the hang up? Mostly, he and his wife Cheri don't want to read long exposes about their unique marital history for the next two years. And certain other, shady candidates are trying to exploit this vulnerability and scare him off.

Here's the story of Mitch and Cheri Daniels: She left him in the mid-1990s and moved to California, where she married someone else. Mitch raised their four children while she was gone. Cheri then returned three years later, and she and Mitch remarried. They've moved on from all of that, of course, but neither of them — Cheri especially — is really looking forward to the entire invasive political world reopening this chapter during the endless season of presidential vetting.

And as a feature in today's Washington Post makes clear, some of Daniels' "rivals" know full well how much this prospect terrifies him and his wife. So they're applying "pressure" on the couple's sore spot, hoping that it kills the Daniels candidacy before it starts.

The governor's political enemies - those who are eager to box out a promising contender with a reputation for fiscal seriousness, establishment backing and intellectual heft - are taking him at his word.

A rival campaign has identified the first lady's reticence as a pressure point before she steps fully into the limelight. The couple has 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 giant Eli Lilly, raised the couple's four daughters, who at the time spanned the ages of 8 to 14. Cheri Daniels later returned, and the couple 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 Daniels. Other officials at potential rival campaigns to Daniels disagreed about whether the personal history of Cheri Daniels would ever be a vulnerability or even germane to the race. One key adviser to a potential candidate said that the guardedness the first lady had exhibited 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.

Anonymous, sleazy Republican-on-Republican operative battles are too enjoyable. And Karl Rove hasn't even beaten someone with his lead pipe in the middle of the night yet! It's only going to get better.

[Image via AP]