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Quayle: wide appeal but untried on national stage

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Actually, it is less than accurate to characterize Quayle's origins as ``nowhere.'' While it is true that he grew up in a small community in Indiana, he also grew up in a family that controls one of the country's largest publishing fortunes.

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Nor could Quayle ever have been characterized as a ``failure'' from which he could become a shining ``success'' - at least, not in the sense that, say, Harry Truman became President after bankrupting himself as a haberdasher. Graced with a handsome face, a winning personality, and wealthy parents, Quayle himself admits to having led a charmed life, once telling an interviewer that the only thing he could recall ever losing was an election at a college fraternity.

Indeed, Quayle's childhood sounds like a full season of ``Mayberry, R.F.D.,'' except that Mayberry never had a family like the Quayles that controlled a trust estimated by Forbes magazine at $650 million. In any event, Quayle's Mayberry was the town of Huntington, Ind. - reasonably conservative, mostly white, mostly protestant, mostly middle-class. Like their neighbors, the Lian church.

Quayle's elementary school principal, Everett Goshorn, describes him as a ``bright youngster,'' a toe-head kid who liked to run through the fields and ice skate on the pond. In high school, Quayle was on the golf team and wrote for the school paper. He met his wife at Indiana University law school. Naturally enough, he was being groomed for the newspaper business. Politics was never a consideration.

Until 1976, that is. That year, the local Republican candidate for the House unexpectedly dropped out of the race. Party regulars, left casting about for an available alternative, asked Quayle, who was then working as the associate editor of the Huntington Herald-Press, to run. Quayle said yes.

He was the clear underdog against an entrenched Democrat, Edward Roush. ``No one even wanted to run against Roush,'' says Janet Houghton, a childhood friend. ``Danny's father didn't think he had a prayer.'' Still, Quayle plunged into areas of the Fourth District, which had weak ties to Democrats and where voters were receptive to the appeal of a fresh, young face. With the support of evangelicals and disaffected suburbanites, he slid to victory.

Since then, Quayle has become something of a political phenomenon in Indiana. His 1980 victory over Senator Bayh was close, though decisive. His reelection in 1986, however, came by the largest margin of any senator in Indiana's history, and it was facilitated by support of the very sorts of voters that the Bush campaign hopes to attract.

Yet for all this Quayle remains very much of an untested political commodity, so much so that political allies back home were a bit dazed at the news of his imminent nomination. ``While he's a very popular guy in Indiana, he doesn't have a national constituency,'' points out Indiana Lt. Gov. John Mutz. The astonishment was shared by other constituents as well. In downtown Indianapolis, says Brian Vargus, director of the Public Opinion Laboratory of Indiana University at Indianapolis, ``working people ... were just sort of shaking their heads.''

Indeed, Quayle has yet to be subjected to the rough-and-tumble that a truly brutal campaign - such as the one that the coming presidential contest promises to be - can inflict. His House race victories came in an area where his family name was well known. His first Senate victory was based on a theme - ``a new generation of leadership'' - that fit in nicely with the national political currents that swept Reagan and the Republican Party to victory that year. His reelection in 1986 - over the challenge of a Valparaiso, Ind., city councilwoman - was a foregone conclusion.