Marilyn Quayle Has Unconventional Style : Politics: Vice president’s wife is considered intelligent, demanding and ambitious. Speech to delegates may give her a higher profile.


Marilyn Quayle had been here only a few hours before she went for the jugular.

Her audience was several hundred fellow attorneys of the National Republican Lawyers Assn. Her subject was legal reform. Her target was the American Bar Assn.

“You remember the ABA,” she told the lawyers assembled in the Wyndham Warwick Hotel ballroom Monday. “It’s that group whose latest exploits include attacking the Administration because we are too tough on violent criminals, giving honor to Hillary Clinton and Anita Hill, working against reform to maintain the status quo and their financial interest.”

Don’t expect Marilyn Quayle to remain demurely in her husband’s shadow. Kinder and gentler is just not her style.


This evening, which is dedicated to family values, she plans to tell the Republican Convention about the baby-boomer dilemma--the choice that generation’s women have faced balancing careers and raising their children. In Quayle’s case, it was compounded by the demands political wives face.

She is expected to cite her decision to give up her law practice to take care of her family when her husband was elected to Congress in 1976. Friends point to the dinners at home each evening at 7, the time she became the gung-ho soccer coach for her son’s team when no one else would, the familial worship at church.

Her official biography notes that “she often shops at discount food warehouses.”

She even cuts her own hair.


But she is hardly the picture of a conventional homemaker. Sharply intelligent, notoriously demanding and fiercely ambitious, she had the doctor induce labor to deliver her first child because her due date conflicted with her Indiana bar exam. Although she has largely subordinated her own career to her husband’s, she has done so as a full and upfront partner.

“They have a real partnership, and he values her advice,” said Sheila Tate, who served as press secretary to Nancy Reagan and is Marilyn Quayle’s confidante.

Some regard Marilyn Quayle as a force behind the vice president’s rise--reflected in her roles in his campaigns and the effort to engineer his selection as George Bush’s running mate in 1988. Tate dismisses such talk as sexist “nonsense.”

During the last four years, she has made herself the guardian of her husband’s oft-battered public image--once ordering his office staff to remove a photo of the vice president playing golf that she thought made him look fat. According to an interview she gave to the Washington Post, she first scribbled all over the picture, then ripped it to shreds.


In the process of highlighting her, the Republicans may be seeking to contrast Marilyn Quayle, who is a fundamentalist Christian, with Hillary Clinton, whom the GOP has sought to depict as a feminist extremist. The Democratic presidential nominee’s wife is a Methodist.

Marilyn Quayle’s chief of staff dismissed such notions. “Just because she’s a lawyer, a lot of similarities are being drawn,” said Marguerite Sullivan. “I’ve never heard her discuss Hillary Clinton.”

But as the respective spouses of the nominees on both major party tickets become more visible amid the debate over family values, analysts say Marilyn Quayle faces other political hurdles.

She clearly aspires to assert herself--but must do so without overshadowing Barbara Bush. She undoubtedly wants to display the smarts that have won her respect in many circles--but without triggering embarrassing comparisons with her gaffe-prone husband.


The five-minute speech itself marks a higher profile for a woman who was stunned by the critical media onslaught that followed Dan Quayle’s selection as the vice presidential nominee in New Orleans four years ago.

She let it be known in often harsh terms that she felt he was unfairly treated--not only by the media and the Democrats, but by then-Bush campaign manager James A. Baker III, a potential rival for the 1996 presidential nomination who Bush recently named as his new chief of staff.

Friends say that she has hit her stride after initial dismay that she could not readily resume her law practice because of potential conflicts of interest.

She moved into a six-office suite--twice the size of the complex that Barbara Bush occupied before her--in the Old Executive Office Building across the hall from the vice presidential office. She has worked to increase awareness of the importance of early detection and treatment of breast cancer, which proved fatal to her mother at the age of 56.


She has also traveled around the country and worldwide to assist in disaster preparedness and response.

Recently, she has stepped up her political activities as well. She traveled to 28 states in the last two months on behalf of candidates and state party organizations, raising about $1 million.

And, in the last year, she also became a novelist. She and her sister, Nancy Northcott, wrote a thriller about the overthrow of a Cuban dictator, “Embrace the Serpent.” Despite unflattering reviews--Time magazine complained about “a clutter of cliches” and “arthritic prose"--the sisters are working on a second book.

She is a woman of unstinting high standards--a perfectionist who has been known to explode when her expectations are not met.


She seemed to voice her personal style when she discussed her favorite recreation, horseback riding, with the Washington Post last year. “I ride hard, I ride fast,” she said. “There is no room for error. And if there is error, you hurt yourself very bad.”

She is fiercely devoted to her three children--Tucker, 18, Benjamin, 15--and intensely protective of their privacy. Campaign sources say she would be highly reluctant to use them in campaign commercials.

Friends describe her as a warm and generous woman, who will pull such pranks as placing a whoopee cushion on her husband’s chair.

But she can also be unyielding on moral issues--typified by her response to an interviewer’s question about whether a child of hers would have an abortion. In a word: No. Asked if the child would make the decision, she said: “We will make it with her.”


Her parents, both Indiana physicians, gave as much encouragement to their four daughters to pursue careers as they gave to their two sons. Her nickname was Merit. The family reportedly played the taped lectures of Houston evangelist R. B. Thieme Jr., who attacked homosexuals and liberals. She has declared religion too personal to discuss.

Referring to the tough media attention the Quayles have faced, Tate said: “Anyone in those circumstances would get a little guarded with the press. I marvel at the resilience of both of them because, if it was me, I would still be under the bed in a fetal position with my thumb in my mouth making primal noises. . . . She’s come a long way. She still must be a little wary about it.”