Quayle vows to defy odd win presidency

Underdog candidate seeks to get beyond being butt of TV jokes

April 15, 1999|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

HUNTINGTON, Ind. -- Casting himself as an underdog and a fighter in America's culture wars, an older, grayer Dan Quayle entered the 2000 presidential race yesterday at a raucous rally in his old Midwest hometown.

Greeted with ear-splitting cheers, band music and a shower of indoor fireworks, the former vice president vowed to confound the experts who say he doesn't have a chance.

Quayle signaled his intention to run as an anti-Washington outsider who would "reclaim the values that made America great."

"A dishonest decade of Bill Clinton and Al Gore," he said, has undermined the country's moral foundation.

"Starting in this town, in this place, at this hour, we will fight back," Quayle declared to a roar of approval from several thousand supporters, mostly high school and college students, in the Huntington North High School gym.

Sounding more confident than ever, Quayle departed freely from his prepared text, interjecting road-tested applause lines that he's been developing in appearances around the country over the past two years.

The boisterous Hoosier throng gave a knowing cheer when he took a veiled shot at Republican front-runner Texas Gov. George W. Bush, a son of the man who chose Quayle as his running mate in 1988.

Without mentioning names, Quayle said the country could not afford another president who needs on-the-job training to deal with international crises. "You can only get so much from the briefing books and crash courses," he said. "You need experience."

Making good on his promise to elevate foreign policy issues in the campaign, Quayle called himself an internationalist who would maintain America's leadership role in the world.

"But that does not mean we should get involved in every civil war around the world," he said.

Balkans `mistake'

The United States is left with no good options at the moment in Kosovo, because the Clinton administration made "mistake after mistake after mistake" in the Balkans, said Quayle, who opposes the use of U.S. ground troops.

He also promoted his major economic initiative: a 30 percent across-the-board tax cut, which he said would benefit "exhausted and stressed" American families.

Quayle, who aborted a planned presidential candidacy in 1996, is making his first full-fledged run for the Republican nomination.

Never far from his mind is the derisive treatment he has received at the hands of fellow politicians, the national news media and TV comics over the years. Now he is hoping to convert the scars that he has earned into a political plus.

"The question in life is not whether you get knocked down," Quayle said. "You will. The question is, are you ready to get back up, and are you willing to get back up and fight for what you believe in? And I am."

Quayle, who graduated from high school here in 1965, now lives in Arizona, where he spent part of his childhood. Launching his candidacy here was a way of refreshing his Indiana political base and tapping the deep reserve of affection for him in his hometown.

"Every campaign that begins in Huntington results in victory," Quayle told supporters after a warm-up show that included appearances by Eddie Cheever Jr., the 1998 winner of the Indianapolis 500, and Jim McMahon, the former Chicago Bears quarterback.

In theory, the party's last vice president should be a strong contender to head the national ticket. Quayle remains personally popular among conservative activists, the 2000 contest is wide open and no senior Republican has a claim to the nomination.

But in reality, Quayle starts out at a distinct disadvantage. After suffering two straight losses in presidential elections, Republicans are almost desperate to take back the White House. But polls show that most Americans would not vote for him if he is nominated.

Quayle's biggest hurdle is what others call his "perception problem." Six years after leaving office, he remains the butt of late-night TV jokes.

Despite a determined effort, he has been unable to erase a deep-seated notion that he is clueless. "I'm just not sure that he's accomplished it yet," says Robert Bennett, the Ohio Republican chairman.

Misspelled `potato'

Quayle's pollster, Kellyanne Fitzpatrick, says his misspelling of "potato" remains one of the first things Republican voters think of when asked about Quayle.

Though he is the most widely known candidate in the Republican field, Quayle is stuck in single digits in the early polls, far behind Governor Bush. A recent poll of Republicans in Arizona, his new home state, showed Quayle trailing well behind Bush, Elizabeth Hanford Dole and Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Another complicating factor is a field of rivals on the Republican right that is stronger than Quayle strategists had anticipated. Besides Quayle, those who enjoy support among social and religious conservatives include Steve Forbes, Patrick J. Buchanan and Gary Bauer.

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