Dan Quayle posed with a pumpkin. He chomped roast beef in a diner. He tousled the hair of cute babies and patted the hands of senior citizens.
Across the rural heartland of America--well, as much as one can manage by bus in a day--the Republican vice presidential nominee Tuesday plighted his troth to Midwestern values in a caravan that stretched from courthouse square to fertile farmland, from coffee shop to high school gymnasium.
Quayle, born in neighboring Indiana, worked his rural roots for all they were worth, cloaking Democratic presidential candidate Michael S. Dukakis in the garb of a city slicker.
“He thinks he’s better than us,” Quayle sneered at one stop.
Here, at an outdoor rally under threatening skies, Quayle summed up the connection that the Bush campaign hopes will boost its cause in the upper Midwest, where high-stakes electoral battles are under way in Ohio and Illinois.
“Our values are the same as your values, our beliefs are the same as your beliefs, my upbringing is your upbringing,” he said.
Furlough Program Hit
In Napoleon, Ohio, the first stop on a dawn-to-dusk bus trip across the western part of the state, Quayle launched a new assault on Dukakis’ past support of a prison furlough program, playing the same tune GOP presidential nominee George Bush has been pounding out for days.
The senator accused Dukakis of a “sorry record” on law-and-order issues, and like Bush he scored the Massachusetts governor for not apologizing to a Maryland couple attacked by a convicted murderer who escaped from the furlough program.
“He has not truly and sincerely owned up to his irresponsible conduct. I can’t imagine the people of Napoleon and western Ohio having the governor’s attitude regarding these issues,” Quayle said with certitude.
“Right and wrong is at the very core of life in this beloved Midwestern region that I grew up in and where you live,” he added. “To fulfill my duties I may live in Washington most of the time, but the values of this region have not left me.”
For much of the day, Quayle appeared somewhat looser than he has been. Quayle has begun chatting with reporters at the end of the campaign day in what is seen as a bid to improve his rocky relations with the traveling press corps.
Late Monday, Quayle suggested, apparently partly in jest, that he would exhibit more openness and independence from the Bush campaign strategists who travel with him. “I am Dr. Spin,” he said, smiling broadly as he invoked the collective nickname for all campaign spokesmen. “And I want you to all report that, and I don’t want anybody to say, well, ‘here’s what some campaign aide said about it.’ You ask me and I’ll give you the answer.”
If the day’s message had a familiar ring, there was a reason: The “I’m one of you” campaign worked during the primaries for former presidential candidate Bob Dole in Iowa and for Bush in New Hampshire--and the Bush campaign hopes that it will work its magic a third time with Quayle. Campaign officials have cited the senator’s Midwestern roots as a rationale for Quayle’s position on the Republican ticket.
“We all stick together when times are tough,” a hopeful Quayle told supporters in Napoleon.
In Ottawa, where he told high school students to stay away from drugs and pay attention to their school work, he entertained questions from the crowd. Asked one student: How do you think you did in last week’s debate with Democratic counterpart Lloyd Bentsen, the senator from Texas?
“I think I did great,” he said. “Next question?”
But not all voters dismissed the matter with such ease.
“I thought maybe he’d be a little more relaxed than the debate,” said Virginia Paulus of Celina, who traveled to a farm to listen to Quayle. There, backed by a combine and a tractor, Quayle complained that Dukakis “doesn’t understand farmers, doesn’t understand the Midwest.”
Paulus said she thought Quayle was “repetitious and slow to answer” during his debate. She will probably vote for Bush, she said, “but I don’t know how much I like Quayle.”
The candidate himself seemed to want to drown his debate-inspired troubles in a torrent of photo opportunities. At Custer’s Produce outside Van Wert, he bounded off his bus toward a display of pumpkins. “Pumpkin time!” he shouted.
He looked around for a while then picked up one, round and unscarred.
“I think we’ll make it into a monster,” he said, his eyes glinting. “We’ll call it the Dukakis monster.”