Dan Quayle casts himself as moral choice in Iowa

April 16, 1999|By Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover

DES MOINES, IOWA — DES MOINES, Iowa. -- In the small downtown headquarters of former Vice President Dan Quayle, his campaign manager for the 2000 Iowa precinct caucuses, Keith Fortmann, explains how his candidate will use Iowa to shed his debilitating image as a lightweight.

"A lot of people have concerns about his electability," Mr. Fortmann said. "But Dan Quayle is the best Republican on the stump now. My job is to get him in Iowa as much as I can. I have to say to people, `Hey, have you seen him lately? He's not the candidate he used to be.' "

Mr. Quayle's ability to articulate the issues is surprising those who hear him today, his Iowa manager says, and, importantly, he is squeaky clean -- something voters want after the Clinton sex-and-lies scandal of the past year.

"Six years ago they took Dan Quayle, shook him upside down, and all that came out was one little potato," Mr. Fortmann says, referring to the episode in which Mr. Quayle coached a young boy to misspell the word. But he acknowledges the gaffe still haunts his candidate. "As the campaign manager," he says, "I can't send a press release out with a typo in it because the press will see it as Dan Quayle typing it himself."

The only way Mr. Quayle will shed the image, Mr. Fortmann acknowledges, is by demonstrating his sharpness, and by starting to convince Republicans that he can be elected. The first step will be a GOP straw poll in August at which only Iowa Republicans will vote. "My hope is to win the straw poll, and that takes care of electability." But the Iowa Republican straw poll in 1995 proved nothing. Sen. Phil Gramm finished in a dead heat with Bob Dole and wound up running fourth in the Iowa caucuses. Dave Kochel, Lamar Alexander's manager in the state, agrees that the August straw poll will be critical and says Mr. Quayle "will surprise people here, but I'm not sure he has much room to make a mistake."

Mr. Quayle and Mr. Alexander are two of the four Republican candidates who are opening offices in the state. The others are Rep. John Kasich of Ohio and magazine publisher Steve Forbes. Five others have Iowa campaign managers appointed at this unprecedently early stage.

Only Pat Buchanan, who ran a surprising second to Mr. Dole in the 1996 Iowa caucuses, and Sen. John McCain of Arizona have yet to put an identifiable staff person on the ground here. Mr. Buchanan is certain to compete here again, but rival Republican organizers here suggest Mr. McCain may bypass the Iowa caucuses. His press secretary, Howard Opinsky, says only that "we are not writing off any state" at this time and Mr. McCain will visit Iowa later this month.

History warns of the wisdom of skipping the Iowa caucuses. Democrats Henry Jackson in 1976 and Al Gore in 1988 gave the state short shrift and their campaigns never really got off the ground.

A consensus seems to be building among Iowa GOP activists that the 11-candidate field will start to shake out here with contenders in two groups: Mr. Forbes, Mr. Buchanan, Mr. Kasich, Christian right leader Gary Bauer, Sen. Bob Smith of New Hampshire and former Maryland U.S. Senate candidate Alan Keyes vying for the conservative mantle; Texas Gov. George W. Bush, Elizabeth Dole, Mr. Alexander and Mr. McCain, if he competes here, going after the establishment identification, with Mr. Quayle somewhere between the two camps.

Mr. Forbes is being watched closely because he ran a very negative and destructive television campaign in Iowa in 1996. His man here, Bob Haus, says Mr. Forbes will focus more on a "ground war" of grass roots organizing this time around.

Mr. Alexander, with former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad as his campaign chairman, hopes to garner much of the rural vote that Mr. Dole won in 1996. Mr. Bush is the big unknown quantity in Iowa as elsewhere and isn't expected here until June. The others aren't waiting for him.

Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover write from the Washington Bureau.

Pub Date: 4/16/99

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