RUNNEMEDE, N.J. -- Vice President Dan Quayle, campaigning for New Jersey Republican candidates the other day, made what he later called, in jest, "one of the safest statements I made all day."
Quayle told a rally of the GOP faithful that he guaranteed that if Christine Whitman, the party's longshot challenger to Democratic Sen. Bill Bradley, "is elected, we'll have a Republican Senate."
The Republicans, he noted, need to pick up six seats on Nov. 6 to win outright control of the Senate and five to tie, giving him, as president of the Senate, the tie-breaking vote. And then, he added, "It will be my sheer delight to preside over a divided Senate and cast tie-breaking vote after tie-breaking vote for the programs of President George Bush."
Quayle's "guarantee" figures to be a safe one. There is probably no GOP challenger this fall who is given less of a chance to win than Whitman, running against the immensely popular and immensely well-heeled Bradley. And with the odds-makers saying only a miracle can give the Republicans a majority in the Senate, a Whitman upset of the one-time pro basketball star would certainly qualify as one.
Yet Quayle, and President Bush, too, are doggedly campaigning in these closing days of the 1990 off-year elections, talking about the need to wrest control of both the House and Senate from the Democrats as the way to end the kind of fiasco the country has seen in the drawn-out budget deficit reduction negotiations.
In the House, where the Democrats hold a 175-seat bulge, the odds against a Republican takeover are even greater than winning the Senate. Yet Quayle, on this day, used the same argument -- taking GOP control of Congress -- for voting for Republican House candidate Dan Mangini here and GOP House aspirant John F. McGovern in Concord, Mass., during an eastern seaboard swing.
The swing was par for the course for Quayle. Up to this particular day, he had campaigned in more than 40 states this year for a variety of local Republican candidates.
The immediate question that all this activity raises is why the vice president and the president are willing to spend so much time and political capital for House and Senate candidates in what most Republican political operatives regard as a lost cause from the start.
No less a political icon than President Ronald Reagan stumped tirelessly for GOP congressional candidates in both off-year elections during his White House tenure, in 1982 and 1986, with dismal results. In 1982 the best he could do in the Senate was hold the line. In 1986, 13 Republican senatorial candidates he campaigned for lost and the Democrats regained control of the Senate, in spite of his fervent pleas to win just one more for the Gipper.
At several stops this day, Quayle ticked off justification for making the strong effort. One is to energize the party faithful to work and to generate voter turnout. Another is to give local candidates a visibility they would not have without his presence.
At the New Jersey stop, the television cameras Quayle attracted also had access to both Whitman and Mangini, who spoke at the rally. Outside Concord, when Quayle made a pre-arranged "impromptu" stop at a stand selling Halloween pumpkins, GOP gubernatorial candidate William Weld was at his side for the cameras to capture.
Perhaps most important, however, is the money Quayle is raising for the party. According to aides, he's held 100 fund-raisers this year, bringing in nearly $10 million for local and state parties. At one in nearby suburban Philadelphia, lunch guests at a private home kicked in $100,000, in bites of $5,000 and $2,500, to share a brief time with the vice president.
Such frenetic activity inevitably generates speculation that Quayle is busily ingratiating himself to party functionaries for personal political reasons. A local reporter asked whether he was campaigning to keep his spot on the national ticket with President Bush in 1992. "I am campaigning for Bill Weld," Quayle replied.
While the polls indicate serious slippage in Bush's popularity as a result of the budget fiasco, Quayle said he believes the public mood is cyclical, "up one week and down the next." He expressed the hope that, with he and Bush out on the stump in the closing days of the campaign blaming the Democrats, the public mood will change. The attitude seems to be that it won't hurt to try.
Columnists Germond and Witcover, members of The Evening Sun's staff, also appear in the Perspective section of The Sunday Sun.