New Orleans — CAMPAIGN necessities create ``new'' candidates. There was the new Richard Nixon, who emerged in 1968 supposedly more mature, knowledgeable, and agreeable than he had been in his losing race in 1960. Also there had been a new Adlai Stevenson in 1956, allegedly more decisive and presidential. Now a ``new'' George Bush appears to be surfacing. His astonishing selection of Dan Quayle as his running mate shows that Mr. Bush has a hitherto unnoted daring side. He has tied his presidential hopes to a relatively unknown political figure. He's going with youth and vigor. Will Senator Quayle be a match for the well-known, experienced oldster who stands at Michael Dukakis's side? It's a huge political gamble. But, if nothing else, the choice tends to erase Bush's image of stuffiness.
There have been other changes in Bush of late. This gentle fellow has been talking tougher, sounding more aggressive.
Bush has always been ``with it.'' He is ``one of the guys.'' But that's not the perception most Americans have of him. This athletic, gregarious politician is almost having to jump off buildings, swim the Hellespont, and pin his opponent's shoulders to the mat to prove to voters that he's not someone who as a youngster was the loner carrying his violin case to a music lesson while the gang on the other side of the street watched him go by.
Bush's problem is that he loves public life, but he is a very private man. He instinctively pulls back from talking about himself or his family. He's a modest man. But now the necessities of this campaign are making him shed his modesty. He's even showing off a bit - putting his big, handsome family on display here at the convention.
Bush's ``newness'' lies in a conscious effort to reveal his real self - and to be more aggressive, even daring. Several GOP leaders I've talked to recall the 1976 convention, when President Ford launched his come-from-behind effort against Jimmy Carter with a ringing speech in which he challenged Mr. Carter to several debates. They hope Bush will be on the attack against Mr. Dukakis. They are ready for a new Bush to emerge, someone who will motivate them to an all-out effort in his behalf. They are eager to see the ``gutsy vice-president'' President Reagan described Monday night. The choice of young Dan Quayle certainly was gutsy.
Mr. Ford's speech was still being put together the day before he was to address the convention in Kansas City in 1976. There was nothing in it about debating Carter. Indeed, some of Ford's aides advised him not to give his lesser-known challenger the tremendous TV visibility that comes with a debate.
Yet a friend of Ford's got his ear. His advice: ``You must get away from the defensive position that Carter has you in. Your best device is to challenge him to several debates. Make it a strong, fist-in-air, almost angry challenge. Sound like an aroused champion. Sound like you have Carter on the run. People will believe you. This is the only way to start your comeback.''
President Ford accepted this advice and made the speech of his life when he accepted the nomination. It was a fighting speech. It was beautifully delivered. Where was the ponderous, dull Ford who usually sounded as though he was reading his speeches? Somehow Ford had been able to reach inside himself and come up with a great performance. From then on Ford delivered speeches with passion.
Ford, mainly because he pardoned Richard Nixon, had been far down in the polls for some time. According to some pollsters he was nearly 40 points behind Carter when the GOP convention began. After Ford's convention speech, Carter's lead dropped dramatically. Before long, Carter was only slightly ahead. Then Ford bumbled on one of his answers in a debate - just as he seemed ready to pass Carter. His campaign never quite recovered.
The vice-president's top campaign aide, James Baker III, was a part of Ford's decision to challenge Carter at the convention. It is under Mr. Baker's prodding that Bush has begun to emerge as the ``fighting underdog.'' That's the new Bush slogan. It has also become his new political persona, on display here and to be carried into the coming campaign, particularly the debates.
The emergence of the new Bush was evoked by Dukakis's 17-point lead in the polls coming out of the Democratic convention. It looked for a while as though that lead would not melt. But Bush's new aggressiveness has begun to pay off. Dukakis's lead has narrowed considerably.
Can a sitting vice-president who has enjoyed high national visibility for eight years retain this underdog role? Perhaps, even if the polls show it is a horse race when the debates take place or even if Bush is perceived to have taken the lead.
The Bush people believe Dukakis will be widely regarded as the ring-wise, beautifully contained, artfully pugnacious favorite to win the debates. They think, probably correctly, that much of the public will be expecting Dukakis's coolly delivered assaults on Bush in a one-on-one TV confrontation to be devastating; that Bush will be made to look weak, even foolish; and that Bush will really be making a calamitous mistake by debating this formidable, feisty fellow from Massachusetts.
Yet, James Baker remembers 1960 and how combative, tough-talking Richard Nixon - with all his experience in public life and in fighting verbal battles - was supposed to overpower John Kennedy in the debates. Well, it's history now: The underdog, Senator Kennedy, exceeded all expectations with his cool, witty aplomb in that first debate and, thereby, was proclaimed the winner. This outcome, of course, turned the campaign around. From then on Kennedy was never caught.
The Bush people expect that their man will also be perceived as the probable loser, and that he will thus have an opportunity to look impressive - and be adjudged the winner - simply by exceeding expectations. They are counting on a new, daring, gutsy Bush to pull off this surprise.
Godfrey Sperling Jr. is the Monitor's senior Washington columnist.