In the fall of 1972, in Washington, the Supreme Court was returning to work a few months after it had swept aside death penalty convictions across the nation.
And in Indianapolis, a couple of young law students--Marilyn Tucker, in the attorney general’s office, and Dan Quayle, an assistant to the Republican governor--were assigned to work together to redraft Indiana’s death penalty statute.
Shades of love and death: Somewhere over the law books, the capital punishment research sparked a courtship, and within weeks, the two were married by their law school dean.
“Isn’t that just so romantic?” asks Marilyn Tucker Quayle, with a light laugh seldom heard publicly in her half-dozen embattled weeks of national campaigning.
“We started out as colleagues,” and so they have remained, from marital partners to law partners to Capitol Hill, where, with a small congressional staff, “I became a very integral part of what Dan was doing legislative-wise.”
Tonight, her husband, the Republican vice presidential candidate, Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle, will be on stage and on camera in a nationally televised debate. And Marilyn Quayle, who critiqued her husband’s performance in practice debates and expects him to do “quite well,” will be off stage, in the role she describes as “senior adviser” without portfolio or salary-- “definitely without the latter.”
This was not what Marilyn Quayle had planned for this autumn. She had intended to start job interviews and get back to work after a decade of rearing children and helping her husband. Now her half of Quayle & Quayle is out on the stump, selling the Bush-Quayle ticket to voters as ardently as she would have pitched her own skills to employers.
She is 39 to Dan Quayle’s 41, a mother of three--a smart, career-minded conservative, religious, devoted to her family and loyal to her husband, cast by the campaign as the epitome of the baby boom generation.
Treated as an Equal
Dan Quayle has praised her as “my best adviser,” and “a very strong, independent-minded woman.” Within the campaign, she says, “I am treated by both our staff and the Bush staff as an equal with anyone on the staff.”
And after 12 years of political life, Marilyn Quayle--whose nickname, Merit, stuck all through law school--may be deft enough at the craft that someone who didn’t know otherwise might ask: Which Quayle is the candidate?
“She’s not only sharp but she seems to have . . . a political savvy that understands the game,” says Reid Nelson of Indianapolis, who managed Dan Quayle’s first campaign in 1976--and who came to understand quickly that Marilyn’s presence was not window dressing. For starters, “she made it very clear she wanted me to get some new clothes.”
And at the primary victory party at a club atop a Ft. Wayne bank, she dressed him down for the messy, unreadable campaign buttons, admonishing him in front of the GOP haute monde, “ ‘Before you do any thing in this campaign, you consult me first.’ I felt about 2 inches tall,” Nelson says.
More than a decade later, Nelson remains impressed with Marilyn Quayle. “She’s very bright. In fact I’d say she’s the brighter one of the two, if I had to pick, to be perfectly honest about it.”
Looks Better in Person
While her husband’s vaunted photogenic good looks seem to diminish somewhat in the flesh--the resemblance up close is as much to game show host Pat Sajak as to Robert Redford--Quayle in person looks better than she photographs: the slim, assured carriage of an English horsewoman, and a wide, toothy smile that occasionally lights up her tanned face.
And if her long 1960s “flip” hair style recalls her days as a Purdue pompon girl (as well as a class treasurer and student government cabinet member), her campaign style is all Big Ten football coach: deliberate and no-nonsense.
Early in the campaign, she witheringly dismissed, in rapid succession, suggestions that her husband had been selected for his looks, that the junior Quayles are rich, that Dan was a “draft-dodger” or an intellectual lightweight or had a relationship with a woman lobbyist.
She has been known to frost over at an unwelcome question or glower at reporters who direct offending queries at her husband, and she parries her own answers with courtroom adroitness. At public engagements, reporters have noted that when she looks at Dan Quayle, it is not with the doting, doe-eyed gaze of a Nancy Reagan, but with the appraising eye of an aide totting up points to praise and flaws to address.
Their public styles are a foil for each other. Where he is enthusiastic, she is reserved, even aloof. Where he has sometimes been known to wade wildly into tangled thickets of his own rhetoric, she speaks in measured, deliberate sentences.
Quayle “couldn’t have picked a better (wife), especially when you’re a goof like he is,” said an Indiana lawyer and Democrat who knew her well in law school, and who did not want his name used. “I can’t say anything bad about her except her political point of view.”
Campaign reporters are by now familiar with the little squeezes she applies to her husband’s arm when he appears to be talking himself into dangerous territory. As questioning heated up during one session aboard a campaign flight, Marilyn Quayle pointed to something out the plane’s window, and Dan Quayle stopped talking to look. To reporters, it appeared pitch black outside.
“I didn’t know I was doing it"--pressing his arm, she said, then. “Usually I’m trying to scoot him along because normally we’re stopped at a rope line and we’re late for an event and he’ll stand there and talk forever. . . .”
On Her Own Schedule
She has been campaigning solo, swinging from Oregon to Texas to Connecticut, hitting a city for the usual three-pitch of fund-raiser, speech and local interviews--22 of those in one day, in Hartford and New York City.
The Bush campaign “did not anticipate having a wife they could put on her own schedule,” a Quayle aide said.
On the campaign trail, her vigilance has sometimes relaxed. Although she prefers classical music while Dan and the kids “love rock ‘n’ roll,” she cut a few dance steps recently when a staffer put on a Motown tune in the campaign plane. After a stop at Disney’s Epcot Center, South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond strolled into the plane’s press section and put on a “Goofy” cap, and Marilyn Quayle--briefly--did the same.
But some subjects seem off-limits for humor. An Indiana Democrat seated next to her at civic events during the 1976 and 1978 congressional campaigns saw she was pregnant both times. The second time, he quipped that she would probably be glad when her husband made it to the Senate, so “ ‘then you’ll only have to get pregnant every six years.’ She was not amused.”
No More Anonymity
The anonymity in which she has driven around their McLean, Va., home exploded in the popping of balloons in New Orleans. Now, in press scrutiny engendered by a national campaign--jarring after down-home Indiana races and coverage by local media, some of which were part of the Quayle family’s media network--she has taken on the national news media as if they, and not the Democrats, were the opposition.
Her children, ages 9, 11 and 14, were “overwhelmed,” she said, from the moment they flew to the New Orleans convention, up to and beyond a press stake-out that recorded Dan toting out the trash.
“They were with us fortunately when things were at their nastiest, and as long as you have truth on your side, kids will handle anything.”
Asked why a Gallup poll showed many Bush supporters rating Quayle as less qualified than Democratic opponent Lloyd Bentsen, she retorted: “It’s obvious Dan Quayle was the victim of an incredibly vicious media attack . . . airing rumors as if they were fact.” In tonight’s debate, “the American people will have the opportunity to see him in unedited version.”
How tough is Marilyn Quayle? So tough that people who know her say, with degrees of fondness or admiration, that she chose to have labor induced when her first child was due, so that she would not miss the bar exam. So tough that she showed up for the arduous test several days after giving birth, and took the exam sitting on one of those inflatable plastic cushions useful for new mothers and other postsurgical patients.
She’s the fourth of six Tucker children. “My parents tell me that practically the first thing I ever said was, ‘I want to be a lawyer.’ ” With her father a pulmonary specialist and her mother a pediatrician who suspended practice to rear her children, “my parents expected all of us to have a profession.”
(She turned out “excellent,” opines her father, Warren. “A fine girl.”)
Conservative, ‘Moral’ Family
Before she was born, her grandfather was a Republican circuit judge, and her uncle secretary of state. Neither talked politics to her--her grandfather played checkers with her--but her family was conservative, “very strict, very moral,” a Quayle aide said.
From Purdue University, where she majored in political science, she moved into Indiana University Law School, clerking for the attorney general and taking night classes.
“She was a very good student, very conservative politically--she described herself as a snob, her own word,” said the Indiana law school colleague, who remembers that as early as 1976, “I was told by everyone that Dan Quayle was being groomed to be President of the United States.”
The Marilyn-Dan courtship was “a very torrid, quick romance,” he said. “It was sort of cute when they first started to date.”
But it “was multiple things,” Marilyn Quayle says--shared moral and religious values, “and we both respected each other’s intellect. Everything just fit so perfectly, we decided, why waste time?”
They married in November, 1972, and later set up law practice in Huntington, Ind. The shingle said Quayle & Quayle but it was Marilyn who took up the bulk of the practice, family and tax matters, while Dan was associate publisher at the family-owned paper there.
“Tax law--that’s what she liked to do and what she felt she was good at,” says Theodore Bendell, a Huntington lawyer and friend. Dan Quayle"seemed more interested in pursuing the newspaper aspects. . . . Dan didn’t love the practice of law. He gravitated toward politics. . . .”
With their son, Tucker, and a black Labrador named Justice, they moved into a new house. Soon after, Marilyn Quayle built on a sun room addition by herself, “pounding the nails and everything,” neighbor Sandy L. Cook says.
“She wasn’t a great housekeeper, not immaculate, but she was a wonderful mother,” says Cook, who keeps her photo album from the years when the Quayles lived next door and showed up at a picnic wearing yellow “Spiro T. Agnew Memorial Games” T-shirts.
Campaign manager Nelson says Quayle called herself a Libertarian then, not a Republican. But in 1988, Quayle blends a conservative agenda--opposing the equal rights amendment and abortion--with the conviction that she and her husband, in a modern marriage of equals, represent the front wave of the baby boom generation. True to her agenda, she promotes the need for day care and places the responsibility for it on business, not government.
In Huntington, the Quayles “worked as a team,” Cook said. “Marilyn was the first career woman I ever knew and she helped a lot of us by showing what we could do.”
They drove 20 miles on Sunday to Grace Bible Church in Ft. Wayne, where pastor Bill Pauley found “no doubt about the fact they liked what we were about. We believe in inerrancy of Scripture like the Presbyterian church (in Virginia) they’re attending--fundamentalist but not legalistic, a strong emphasis on the grace of God.”
Many people at the church pitched in to help Quayle’s first campaign, Pauley said, and Quayle & Quayle closed up when they moved to Washington. “She gave up her career to help him,” Cook said.
Says Marilyn Quayle: “You have to be someone who has a very good self-image to be able in this day and age to say you’re not working but understand that what you’re doing is important. I think Dan has been very instrumental in making sure I knew how important I was to the work he was doing.”
While she maintained a “comfortable distance” from the office routine, says the Quayle staffer, a tough issue might go home unresolved in Dan Quayle’s briefcase “with lots of conflicting ideas and opinions and come back with a decision.”
When sessions kept Dan Quayle away from his family too long, Marilyn Quayle sometimes took the family to him, picnicking on the Capitol grounds or taking the kids to the Senate dining room hall for bean soup and the “little mint candies the kids stuff in their pockets.”
A Washington woman who belongs like Marilyn Quayle to a circle of Senate, cabinet and ambassadorial wives says that while she has nothing in common with Marilyn Quaylepolitically, she finds her “terrific . . . a superior person.”
And longtime Democratic activist and political consultant Ann Lewis declared, “If I were a partisan Republican desperately looking for something good to think or say about Dan Quayle, Marilyn Quayle would be the best example I could think of.”
Times staff writers Cathleen Decker and Douglas Frantz contributed to this story.