THE new Bush-Quayle ticket will immediately take aim at the most important swing voters in the 1988 election: Reagan Democrats. Dan Quayle, a workhorse senator with impeccable conservative credentials, should help George Bush with Democrats who favor a get-tough, Reagan-style approach to crime, defense, and budget cutting.
Using the appeal of Vice-President Bush's experience and Senator Quayle's youth, the GOP will try to cobble together much the same coalition of conservatives who put Ronald Reagan into the White House. They include Southern whites, Northern blue-collars, and Western independents.
The choice of Mr. Quayle, and the decision to pass over other strongly qualified prospects, clarifies the Republican campaign strategy for the fall.
Mr. Bush will build first on a foundation of Sunbelt states that includes Florida, Texas, the South, and parts of the West. Then he will try to ``cherry pick'' four or five critical states in the Midwest, such as Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Missouri.
California looks as if it will be a difficult state for the GOP this year, so Republicans are calculating ways to win without that huge prize of electoral votes. Even so, California remains one of the two or three pivotal battlegrounds of this election. Bush is counting on political help there from one particularly popular California supporter, President Reagan.
Experts say Democrats absolutely need California to reach the 270 electoral votes they need in November. Republicans have a shot at winning the presidency even without California.
Political scientist Stephen Hess says of the selection of Quayle: ``It is clear that there was no ideal choice. So Bush picked somebody who is not going to hurt him, and may turn out to be a surprise.''
Likened to '52 ticket
Mr. Hess compares the Bush-Quayle ticket to Eisenhower-Nixon in 1952, when General Eisenhower picked the 39-year-old Richard Nixon, a California senator two years younger than Quayle, and with six years less experience in the Senate.
Quayle, like Mr. Nixon, satisfies the party's right wing, and binds the GOP closer together. Unlike Nixon, however, Quayle doesn't bring a big electoral state with him.
The biggest surprise was that Bush passed over men and women far richer in experience, such as Sen. Bob Dole, Rep. Jack Kemp, former Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole, and Sen. Pete Domenici.
But Bush apparently got what he wanted: someone with whom he is comfortable, both personally and politically. Quayle also comes without some of the political baggage that Senator Dole carried. During the primaries, Dole sharply criticized Bush, and Democrats would have relished the chance to replay those old TV news clips this fall.
What Quayle adds
Quayle brings several potential strengths to the ticket, and Republicans are anxious to test them. On Friday, Bush and Quayle will immediately make a campaign swing into the Midwest. Soon after, they will huddle for three or four days in Houston to plot political strategy.
Analysts look at several places and groups where Quayle might help:
Conservatives. The choice of Quayle quickly won enthusiastic praise from religious-right leaders such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Bush support among the religious right has been soft.
Younger voters. Quayle, the first baby-boom candidate on a national ticket, offers a bridge over the age gap. Yet Quayle may be less help than some Republicans hope. Experts note that Reagan, the oldest president in history, is strongest with young voters.
The Midwest. Bush is weak in farm states, and Quayle might help. At a press conference Wednesday, Bush said: ``I feel he [Quayle] can be extraordinarily helpful in the Middle West.'' But Paul Allen Beck, a political scientist at Ohio State University, says there is very little regional loyalty in the Midwest, so Quayle may be of only marginal significance.
Women. Bush suffers a huge ``gender gap'' with female voters. Quayle has always run strongly with women, and Republicans are hoping some of that popularity rubs off.
Under the microscope
Lee Atwater, the Bush campaign manager, compares Quayle's political appeal to that of John F. Kennedy, but concedes it will be an ``interesting experiment'' to see how it works with the electorate.
Though there was early exuberance in some quarters about Quayle, there could also be a downside.
Quayle is virtually unknown, and it could take weeks for the public to get a focus on him. He's also untested at the national level, where he will undergo microscopic scrutiny and must avoid major political gaffes.
Already, some criticism was heard after his first press conference. Reporters complained that Quayle ducked questions about his wealth and his lack of service in Vietnam while in the military.