Polls buoy GOP, but doubts hang over Quayle

George Bush - buoyed by the latest polls - takes his rejuvenated campaign to the Pacific Coast this week. But everywhere he goes, he still hears Quayle, Quayle, Quayle. Dan Quayle, the vice-presidential nominee, dominates the news. Stories about him spread across Page One. They top the evening TV news. They are Topic A on the Sunday talk shows.

Mr. Bush, frustrated by the furor, compares the press to a school of bluefish ``feeding in a frenzy,'' and warns the media: ``I think you've overdone it.''

But Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, one of the men Bush passed over for the vice-presidency, told ``Meet the Press'' on Sunday that the controversy is ``going to last awhile.''

The issue is straightforward: In 1969, at the height of the Vietnam war, did Mr. Quayle use the influence of his wealthy family to get a post in the Indiana National Guard to avoid combat as a draftee?

Quayle says: ``No rules were broken. We got in fairly. I told the Bush campaign that there was nothing improper, nor nothing that would embarrass them about my military service, and I will stand by that.''

Bush says: ``He did honorable service in an honorable outfit known as the National Guard, and that's what the American people are going to be looking at.''

But party insiders say the campaign already is being crippled. Over the weekend, public attention was almost entirely on Quayle, not on Bush's message of freedom, family, and future.

The Quayle furor cuts at least three ways:

First, it raises doubts about Bush's judgment. Why did he pick a man untested in national politics? Democrats, such as Rep. Tony Coelho of California pounced on this aspect of the controversy, charging on Sunday that ``Dan Quayle, at best, is 30th'' in qualifications among the 46 Republicans in the US Senate.

Second, it blunts Republican plans to use the hawkish Quayle to make national defense their prime issue. Over the weekend, Quayle was dogged by protesters carrying signs with messages like: ``'69: Chicken; '88: Hawk.''

Third, it undercuts Republican strategy to use Quayle's conservative credentials to attract Reagan Democrats - mostly middle-aged, white males, many of whom served in Vietnam.

Democratic pollster Peter Hart charged Sunday on ``This Week with David Brinkley'' that the National Guard episode demonstrates that Quayle is a ``child of privilege.... It is a question of fairness.'' For the rest of this campaign, ``there is an odor that is going to be there'' around the Republican ticket, Mr. Hart says.

Even so, there was a modicum of good news over the weekend. A Gallup poll, taken for Newsweek, found the Bush-Quayle ticket bounding ahead of Michael Dukakis and Lloyd Bentsen by 51 percent to 42 percent. It was Bush's biggest margin over Mr. Dukakis in months.

The surge was larger than experts predicted. It was apparently one result of Bush's acceptance speech - what some called the best speech of his political career. While echoing many Reagan policies (it was written by a former Reagan speechwriter), the speech also carved out new ground, as when Bush said:

``I want a kinder, and a gentler nation.''

He emphasized race relations: ``It seems to me the presidency provides an incomparable opportunity for `gentle persuasion.' And I hope to stand for a new harmony, a greater tolerance.... We've got to leave that tired old baggage of bigotry behind.''

After the speech, voters told Gallup that Bush would do a better job than Dukakis at keeping America out of war, fighting illegal drugs and crime, and keeping the economy strong. Dukakis was ahead primarily on family issues.

Gallup found the public divided about Quayle. About 33 percent were less likely to vote Republican because of Quayle, while 36 percent said they were more likely to vote Republican with Quayle on the ticket.

The media focus on Quayle immediately reminded party politicians of 1984.

Four years ago, the Democratic ticket of Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro emerged from the convention with a lead over Ronald Reagan. But questions immediately arose about Mrs. Ferraro's family finances, and for weeks that story overshadowed Mr. Mondale's campaign. Mondale's poll numbers sank like a stone, never to rise.

Some insiders thought Bush should drop Quayle quickly. Press reports over the weekend quoted a senior adviser to the Bush campaign saying of the Quayle controversy: ``It could be a rock around the vice-president's neck.... Why would you spend days and days answering these [questions]? It's better to sever it ... and be on with it.''

But Stuart Spencer, a Quayle adviser, says: ``The issue has turned in our direction. It is behind us.''

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