“The annual discussion with Mitch about salaries was not the high point of the year,” Bergner recalled. “We always joked that no matter how difficult it was for us, it must be more difficult for his wife, Cheri, on a full-time basis.”
He was equally stingy in his personal life: He lived in a basement apartment on F Street Northeast between Second and Third streets — an undesirable neighborhood in the late 1970s — with worn-out furniture and bars on the doors and windows. He drove a beat-up, yellow Volkswagen Beetle with missing floorboards on the shotgun side.
“You could put your foot through (the bottom of the car) if you wanted to. He kept everything for as long as possible,” said Chip Andreae, a junior staffer in Lugar’s office during his first term who eventually became the Senator’s chief of staff in the mid-1980s.
As a Congressional staffer, Daniels frequently patronized the bars southeast of the Capitol on Pennsylvania Avenue, including the Tune Inn and Hawk ‘n Dove. He played on Lugar’s team in the Congressional softball league. He even became a Washington Redskins fan.
Daniels was also intensely loyal to his staff. One former colleague remembered calling him at 2 a.m. to ask him to come over to his place and help him exterminate a handful of rats who had eaten through the wall in his apartment. The duo trapped the rats, and while his colleague beat them with a racquetball racquet, Daniels stabbed the rodents with an ice pick. It worked.
Lugar’s staff enjoyed their share of practical jokes as well. As part of their lobbying efforts for a bill, the home construction lobby once sent chopped two-by-four wooden planks to Lugar’s office that his staff used to create a barricade in front of Daniels’ office area.
From Operative to Candidate
In 1984, when Lugar became chairman of the NRSC, Daniels began work as the executive director of the committee during a cycle that elected, among many Republicans, now-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.). It was at the NRSC that Daniels once again honed his skills as an operative, recruiting candidates to run for Senate and advising incumbents on their re-election strategies.
Charlie Black, who worked with the NRSC as a consultant that cycle, recalled the early preparations that Daniels and Lugar made for Sen. Jesse Helms’ campaign out of an abundance of caution — before the North Carolina Republican even made a decision about running for another term. Fairly late in the cycle — less than one year before Election Day — Helms decided to run again, and he went on to defeat Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt by less than 4 points in a hard-fought and, for the time, very expensive campaign.
After the 1984 cycle, Daniels was recruited to be Reagan’s political adviser in the White House, where he worked for two years until he moved home to Indiana in 1987 to run the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank.
Shortly thereafter, Daniels once again got a call to return to Washington. When then-Sen. Dan Quayle (R-Ind.) became vice president after the 1988 elections, then-Gov. Robert Orr (R) offered to appoint Daniels to fill the Senate vacancy. Daniels declined, citing family reasons, and now-Sen. Dan Coats (R) got the job instead.