WASHINGTON -- Slouched in the back of a limousine sweeping down Pennsylvania Avenue, the same boulevard which today will treat him to a triumphant inaugural journey as vice president, Dan Quayle was feeling an ever-so-sweet vindication.
"I mean when we went down to New Orleans, first of all a lot of people didn't think that George Bush was going to get elected President," Quayle offered as the marble monuments of Washington slid by.
"And then to hear all the stuff throughout the campaign--there's a certain moment when you sit back and feel very good about the way things came out. We're there ."
In his last day as an unemployed former senator, and the day before he emerges into the vice presidency, Dan Quayle on Thursday reminisced about his political campaign and prepared for a tumultuous inauguration, alternately displaying a confident pride and a humble timidity.
He sat through three television interviews, patiently answering virtually the same questions each time. He glad-handed with his political adversary, Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright of Texas, whom he bumped into outside the CBS studios.
'Kinder and Gentler'
"Did you say 'kinder and gentler' things about us?" Quayle tweaked the Speaker, co-opting one of Bush's favorite phrases. "You'd better believe it," Wright replied.
He sauntered down to a fast-food stand and chatted amiably with diners. He exulted over his upcoming job in the company of thousands of supporters at an afternoon reception.
And while more and more adopting the cautious, loyalist tones typical of George Bush in his vice presidency, Quayle was still loose enough Thursday to give in to whim and give fits to his security detail.
As Quayle waved to a familiar reporter when his motorcade pulled onto Pennsylvania Avenue early Thursday, she jokingly stuck out her thumb to beg a ride. He stopped the car, invited her and another reporter nearby to climb on in, and continued toward his office, chatting all the way.
Gone from Quayle on Thursday, for perhaps just a day, was the visible weight of the campaign and the pressure of persistent stories about his political future--or lack of one. His political survival, so Quayle seemed to indicate, was worth relishing. As more than 10,000 supporters snaked through long lines into the Museum of American History to hear him speak Thursday afternoon--Quayle even found time to joke.
His father, he said, was relieved that Quayle--who resigned his Senate seat earlier this month--was finally back on a payroll as of noon today.
"My father gets worried when I'm unemployed," Quayle said. "I told him I got job security now for four years. He's excited about that."
Then came a resurgence of the fiercely competitive campaigner, pleased more than he could say by the immediacy of the inauguration.
"Winston Churchill once said that there's nothing more exhilarating in life than to be shot at without result," Quayle told the cheering crowd in a clear reference to his roller-coaster campaign.
But away from the adrenalin of the applause, Quayle admitted that his imminent move to the vice presidency sometimes gives him pause.
"I used to be a fairly good sleeper at night but I have to confess I wake up every once in a while and just think about all this," he said quietly early Thursday, striding down a deserted hallway en route to yet another television interview.
Quayle said he enters his vice presidency with a sense of mission, with his "capability to lead, and confidence in myself" burnished by the swipes of the campaign. The only expression close to regret was his admonition to school students to study hard for good grades--something he did not do, which came to haunt him during his campaign.
While he insisted throughout the day that his role under President Bush would be "truly meaningful," he also half-jokingly acknowledged in a dawn interview with CBS News that his new job "is not what you call a high-profile office."
And as occurred during the campaign, Quayle was occasionally prone to misunderstandings and misstatements. When he walked a few blocks from his temporary offices to a Hardee's fast-food outlet to order some eggs and biscuits, Quayle veered like any good politician to strike up a conversation with a lone diner as a television camera rolled.
The woman turned out to be a police officer there to protect him.
In an interview an hour later with Cable News Network, Quayle's vocabulary got the best of him as he struggled to explain how he would proceed if President Bush were assassinated. Contrasting the assassination of John F. Kennedy by Lee Harvey Oswald and the attempt on President Reagan's life by John W. Hinckley, Quayle said: "The first thing I would do is to see who did it. Was there foreign involvement? . . . Is it an Oswald-type situation or would it be a Hinckley-type situation that would be domestic, somebody who was not a foreign threat, more of a personal rather than an espionage type of thing."
An aide, questioned about the remark, quickly denied that Quayle meant to suggest that Oswald was under orders from a foreign government. "He misspoke," spokesman David Beckwith said, suggesting that Quayle meant to draw a distinction between a politically motivated attack and one like Hinckley's, the result of mental illness.
But Quayle also seemed to have made strides in the purely political skills he must hone. After eating brunch, he struck up a conversation with theology students sitting nearby. They told Quayle they were halfway through an experiment in which they voluntarily lived among the homeless for 48 hours.
More inquisitive than he was during his campaign, Quayle extracted a promise from them that they send him their yet-to-be-written thesis on homelessness. "He didn't have to ask us that," said Rudolph McKissick Jr., one of the experimenters, who declared himself pleased by Quayle's interest.
The exchange dovetailed nicely with Quayle's newly announced intention to be a missionary for the Administration in the area of urban problems. "People have been left out of this recovery and we know that," he said firmly Thursday morning as he walked to an interview. "We can't just say everything's hunky-dory."
As he moved closer to the vice presidency and passed his self-described period of post-election introspection, Quayle seemed enthralled with the passage of power. From the back seat of his limousine, he excitedly told a reporter about his plan to use his great-grandfather's 1890 Bible during his swearing-in. The book will be opened to Psalms, he said--"there's a lot of good short verses there."