DAN Quayle is handsome enough to compare with Robert Redford, young enough to call George Bush ``pops,'' conservative enough to make Jerry Falwell happy, and just experienced enough to become the next vice-president of the United States. All of which, GOP tacticians hope, will ensure that the White House remains in Republican hands come January. Though presidential candidates protest that they seek a running mate who would make a first-rate president, the selection of a vice-presidential candidate is, first and foremost, an exercise in political strategy. And as such, Senator Quayle's selection as Mr. Bush's running mate constitutes a dramatic effort to strengthen support for the Republican ticket where it needs it most.
``He's got a track record appealing to all kinds of people - conservative Republicans, Reagan Democrats, women, moderates,'' says Mark Helmke, a GOP political consultant who has closely watched Quayle's political career. ``Quayle is a very versatile politician.''
Above all, he is a very conservative one. Quayle served only two terms in the House of Representatives before riding into the Senate on Ronald Reagan's coattails in 1980, unseating Indiana's venerable liberal senator, Democrat Birch Bayh, in the process. Since then, he has established himself as one of President Reagan's most loyal supporters in the Congress, generally voting up and down the line with the administration on matters of foreign and domestic policy.
Moreover, an early reputation as a photogenic featherhead - a stigma that stuck, perhaps unfairly, during his years in the House - has been largely dispelled by his efforts on the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he has emerged as a leading advocate of a strong military and of high defense expenditures. Most recently, Quayle led the fight against a defense spending bill that President Reagan ultimately vetoed, in part, because its funding levels were too low.
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