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Quayle Defends Guard Service to Cheers, Chants

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Times Political Writer

In America’s first good look at the young man who has stirred such a ruckus, Dan Quayle accepted the Republican vice presidential nomination Thursday night with a short, sentimental, I-grew-up-in-the-Heartland glimpse of himself--touching briefly but defiantly on the controversy that clouds the GOP’s electoral fortunes.

“Many this week have asked, who is Dan Quayle? The people of Indiana know me and now the nation will,” he said.

Years in Congress

“Since 1980, I have been a United States senator from Indiana--and proud of it. Before that I was a member of the United States House of Representatives--and proud of it.

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“And, as a young man, I served six years in the National Guard. And, like millions of Americans who have served in the guard and serve today--I am proud of it!”

At that, the convention hall burst into cheers. Then chants: “We want Dan” and “USA! USA!”

The gusto was easy enough to translate: Republicans in the Superdome on the last night of their troubled national convention were ready to boost their new vice presidential nominee out of the storm and into the direction of sunshine.

The high-pressure speech put to the test one of the 41-year-old’s advertised strengths: his stump abilities.

And while his speech was short and measured, the audience reacted warmly to the embattled and handsome stranger who is now one of their leaders.

On his arrival at the Superdome, Quayle brushed off all inquiry about his military service and other controversies.

“Let me say this: Tonight is George Bush’s night and in deference to George Bush I’m not going to get into all the details. I’ll be around tomorrow, I’ll be around the next day and believe me I’ll answer all your questions,” he said, then walked away.

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Some supporters had hoped for a more dramatic stroke Thursday night. Rep. Robert K. Dornan, of Garden Grove, Calif., the first member of Congress to endorse Bush and a conservative of renown, had urged Quayle to confront his swarm of doubters and accusers head-on.

Cites ‘Checkers’ Speech

“It requires a Checkers-like speech,” Dornan said. It was a reference to a famous speech by Richard M. Nixon in 1952 in which the future President confronted reports of financial impropriety, saying the only gift he ever took was a cocker spaniel puppy, Checkers.

Instead, Quayle went at his critics indirectly, passing over disclosures that his powerful family went to bat to get him into the National Guard and out of the draft in the midst of the Vietnam War in 1969. Rather, he challenged the broader image that seems to be settling over him in these first few days in the national limelight--the image of another multimillionaire who inherited wealth and privilege, now being chauffeured into the fast-lane of national politics.

“In Indiana they call us ‘Hoosiers,’ ” he replied, “and if you saw the movie ‘Hoosiers’ you have a feeling for what life is like in the small towns of our state.”

The popular 1986 film was a glorification of small town values and high-school basketball.

“My hometown of Huntington is a little bigger than the town in the movie. And the high school I graduated from, it was a little bigger than the one that fielded the basketball team in the film. Still, I identify with that movie ‘Hoosiers’ because it reflects the values I grew up with in our small town.”

This night, he called himself “one humble Hoosier.”

Writer Watches Speech

Angelo Pizzo, the writer and co-producer of the film “Hoosiers” watched Quayle’s speech on his television in Los Angeles.

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“The fact that he used the movie ‘Hoosiers’ almost as metaphor of his life was something I have very mixed feelings about,” Pizzo said in a telephone interview. “I have a very strong connection to Indiana still. I have an abundance of Hoosier pride. I felt a little aggrandized. But I come from a different place politically than Sen. Quayle.”

Quayle moved beyond Midwest homilies into partisan electioneering midway in his address, hitting some of the generic-flavored themes the party tried to emphasize during its convention.

“We do not need the future the Democratic party sees, the party of George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale . . . “

Interrupted by applause, he cautioned, “Just wait, a minute, it gets better. Ted Kennedy and, now, his buddy Michael Dukakis. That future has America in retreat.”

Tests His Mettle

In addition to testing Quayle’s oratorical abilities, his appearance put to trial his mettle. Two days ago, he was merely a tease on George Bush’s running mate list, a junior senator with virtually no national profile. Delegates at the convention decided by Wednesday they could like him, a young and energetic man who represented a leap into the future. And then came disclosures and doubts about his past.

As Quayle spoke Thursday night, campaign whips at the Superdome distributed sheets of quotes from Indiana newspapers and wire services to the effect that helping people get into the National Guard was commonplace and acceptable.

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Quayle was nominated by a man who campaigned for the presidency and then hoped for the vice presidency, but fell short on both, Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas. Seconding speeches were delivered by three others who were considered as running mates--Rep. Jack Kemp of New York, Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum of Kansas, Sen. Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming--and Indiana’s other senator, Richard G. Lugar.

For most of the day leading up to his crucial speech, Quayle remained out of sight. Campaign officials said he was composing his remarks, and himself.

But in one revealing interview with the McNeil/Lehrer Newshour, the vice presidential nominee recounted details of that moment last Tuesday that would change his life in ways that are still unknown.

Quayle explained he and his wife, Marilyn, waited and wondered who Bush would name to the ticket. “We did what only two normal people would do, thinking that this might be a last free private moment. And we walked down Bourbon Street and ate at Sammy’s. . . . And I had a small steak and I think she had a salad. And I signed the Visa card for I think it was $22. I can’t remember. And all of a sudden the beeper went off. . . .”

Quickly Accepts Offer

Quayle said he returned to his hotel, called and quickly accepted Bush’s offer. “At first I still wasn’t certain he was going to ask, and then he says: ‘If you are willing I would like to put you on the ticket.’

“And my heart went down to my toes.”

Staff writers Sara Fritz, Patt Morrison, Keith Love and Henry Weinstein contributed to this story.

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