THE suspense is over and factional tensions have eased. As the Republican convention moves toward its climax, delegates are growing increasingly comfortable with their ticket. Mainline as well as hard-line conservatives here - who stand to the right of Republican voters overall - are cheering George Bush's biggest convention gambit in picking Dan Quayle to be his running mate. Many see the ticket as deftly combining the strength of experience with the zest and freshness of youth.
``I'm thrilled,'' says Jack Hurley, a youthful delegate from Bluefield, Va. ``He's young, he's attractive, and he'll make this election a lot more exciting.''
``He'll help in the farm states and that's where we need help,'' comments Erna F. Berg of Fergus Falls, Minn.
Republicans also delight in a ticket they feel does not make as long a philosophical stretch as that between Michael Dukakis and Lloyd Bentsen. Although many here still have a hazy impression of Senator Quayle, he is perceived as somewhat more conservative than Mr. Bush, but without glaring differences.
``Quayle is more than acceptable to conservatives,'' says James Snyder, an alternate delegate from Rockport, Ind., ``but because of his commitment to job retraining, child care, and housing, people will see that Republicans have a caring side. The party has not done a good job of selling itself on that.''
Many conservatives say they feel reassured that Bush is really on their side. ``We immediately discovered that Quayle is a conservative, right in line with where we are,'' observes Michelle Morandi, a Pat Robertson delegate from Nevada.
When the news of Mr. Quayle's selection broke, there was almost universal surprise. Many delegates initially admitted that they knew very little about him.
``Who's Quayle?'' asked Freddi Hagin of Atlanta. ``He's not someone I would have picked.''
But as word quickly spread and party whips informed their state delegations about Quayle's credentials, enthusiasm began to build. It was not long before contrasts were being drawn with the much older Lloyd Bentsen, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee.
The patrician Senator Bentsen, some suggest, comes up short on dynamism.
``Quayle is just the opposite of that,'' says Lane Harvey, a Fairfield, Ill., lawyer who has watched Indiana news coverage of Quayle for years. ``He's fresh and full of energy.''
Anticipating that Quayle will lend rhetorical strength to the ticket, convention delegates are now poised for the first good look at the Bush-Quayle team. Delegates acknowledge the vice-president's lack of charisma and often weak image on television. They are aware that much rides on his acceptance speech tonight.
But Republicans say they believe they have a candidate of proven experience and personal warmth. If Bush can define himself more vividly to the American people, delegates say, voters will give him the edge over his Democratic opponent.
A trace of concern is evident as well, however. Many delegates indicate that they, like the general public, do not yet fully know the new GOP standard-bearer as a political leader in his own right. Bush's challenge, it is felt, is to get out from under the shadow of Ronald Reagan.
``The one problem he now has is to get himself identified as `President Bush,''' remarks Mary Singletary of Montclair, N.J. ``But I think he'll be able to project himself when he is on his own and not just trying to support someone else's program.''
Duane Mutch, a fuel dealer from Larimore, N.D., was a Bob Dole supporter. He wishes Bush had a ``stronger image.''
``The more I see, the more I like him,'' Mr. Mutch says. ``The time he stood up to Dan Rather - that showed he had a little fight in him. But he's been on the back burner.''
Those who have seen Bush in small gatherings or met him one on one seem to have the most enthusiasm for him. Delegates speak of the vice-president's invariable graciousness as well as self-confident command of issues.
``A group of us visited him at his home, and we all agreed that if every voter could meet him personally, there would be no question as to who the next president would be,'' says Wade Kach of Baltimore County, Md. ``He comes across as a warm and genuine individual.''
But, Mr. Kach adds, people sometimes consider Bush ``preppy and aloof,'' and this is something he will have to overcome.
Quayle is also expected to help Bush surmount the gender gap. ``He's attractive and will appeal to women,'' says William Brenner, a businessman from Warrensburg, Mo.
According to delegates from Ohio, Kentucky, and southern Illinois, the boyish senator has a native-son familiarity that extends beyond the borders of Indiana - especially where television markets overlap. ``We know him and we think he's great,'' says Jim Drake, a real estate broker from Youngstown, Ohio.
Mary Sullivan, a Cincinnati lawyer, did not know Quayle until hearing him speak here Monday morning. He instantly became her choice for running mate.
``He's young and dynamic and he really represents the party of the '90s.''