Issues: Bush's health and Quayle's fitness Bout with the flu raises question of succession.

January 09, 1992|By Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON -- For the second time in eight months, the capital has been jolted by questions about President Bush's health and its potential impact on his re-election prospects.

His sudden illness in Tokyo yesterday once more put the spotlight on Vice President Dan Quayle, a man about whom many Americans have repeatedly registered their doubts.

But as the 67-year-old president slept through the night across the Pacific, the initial consensus was that his latest illness would have a minimal political effect if it was, as the White House said, merely a case of the stomach flu.

"Most of the rest of the United States has the flu at this time," said Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution, a Washington research group. "If he's back jogging next week and looking good on television, the impact will not be serious."

Former Democratic National Chairman John White agreed. "This might hurt some presidents more than Bush," he said. "But Bush is a human president, and Mrs. Bush handled it so well. I don't see any downside at all."

Still, Republican analyst Kevin Phillips suggested that the political fallout could be more serious because the illness occurred at a time when Bush faced troubles at home.

"It focuses attention on the fact that not only is he the president with a public opinion decline, but he's got a vice president who's not deemed qualified to be president," Phillips said.

Analyst William J. Schneider agreed on Cable News Network that Bush's illness "will reintroduce the Quayle issue," which he said could be a problem for Bush in a close election.

He cited a CNN-Gallup Poll released this week showing that among independent voters, 11 percent said they were more likely to vote for Bush if he kept Quayle on the ticket while 23 percent were less likely to vote for him. That would mean a potential 4 percentage-point loss for Bush.

"That's more than enough to decide the vote in a close election," Schneider said.

"He's been a very healthy man, and he's not any more," Phillips said. "This may not be serious but, with his age and the strain of the presidency, he does not need this attention on Quayle."

When Bush was hospitalized in May with an irregular heartbeat later attributed to a thyroid disorder, a series of polls showed increased public concern about the prospect of Quayle's assuming the presidency.

A CNN-Gallup Poll in November showed that 53 percent felt he was unqualified to take over, compared with 37 percent who thought him qualified.

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