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Competitive Indiana Governor’s Race Continues to Heat Up

BY Admin  September 20, 2004 at 6:35 PM EST

The wife of former Gov. Frank O’Bannon, who died while in office in September 2003, has begun campaigning on behalf of O’Bannon’s then-lieutenant governor and now Indiana’s governor, Joe Kernan.

“Frank always counted on Joe Kernan to give input and ideas, to be able to make decisions and move on them,” Indiana’s former first lady said at a campaign appearance. “There was never one ounce of hesitancy on Frank’s part to bring Joe in as a full partner on every issue, and I’m very grateful for that. So I had said to Governor Kernan that if I could be helpful in any way to let me know.”

The Daniels campaign tried to maintain an unscathed image from the endorsement, saying it was “only natural” for O’Bannon to endorse Kernan. Plus, they recently got their own support from a first lady.

While in Indiana for a GOP fundraiser, first lady Laura Bush met with Daniels, the former director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Bush administration, at the airport where she spoke about his relationship with Congress, surprising many with her remarks, The Indianapolis Star reported.

“Mitch had a very great relationship with congressmen. And it’s a difficult job to the director of that office and … work with congressmen. But he was able to do that with members on both sides,” the first lady said.

Many seemed surprised by the first lady’s memory of Daniels in Congress, where he was nicknamed by Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., as “little Caesar.”

“The nature of the job meant I had to argue with those whose chosen mission in Congress was to spend money,” Daniels said.

While they both have enjoyed the extra press from these two first ladies, Daniels and Kernan both appear to be separating themselves from their parties, The Indianapolis Star reported.

Daniels has tried to distance himself from his time in the Bush administration.

“If I wanted to, I could have a parade of Cabinet officials coming through Indiana,” Daniels said. “But that’s not the way I want to win.”

In a similar strategy, Kernan did not attend his party’s convention and almost did not see Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, Mass., when he was in Indiana, according to The Indianapolis Star.

“He has huge respect for John Kerry and his military record and candidacy,” said campaign manager Bernie Toon. “But Joe Kernan is running his own race.”