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.
In other areas, too, Quayle has established himself as an active presence in the Senate. Earlier this year, he strengthened his conservative credentials by leading the fight in the Senate against a bill requiring 60-days notice of plant closings. In 1986, Quayle championed the nomination of South Bend, Ind., lawyer Daniel Manion to be a federal appeals court judge. After a nasty partisan feud, the nomination was approved when Bush cast the tie-breaking vote.
So his selection as the party's vice-presidential nominee is a salve to those conservatives who had been less than delighted at the thought that the moderate George Bush might select a similarly inclined running mate. ``I couldn't be more grateful,'' gushed Mr. Falwell. Added Sen. Gordon Humphrey (R) of New Hampshire: ``It will energize conservatives and that's very important.''
More than that, however, the Bush campaign is hoping that Quayle's popularity with women and moderates in Indiana will carry nationally and will provide Bush with much-needed boost among those groups. And, as important as that appeal is, many Republican strategists believe there is nothing about Quayle's candidacy that is quite so compelling as his potential appeal to young people. At 41, Quayle would be one of the youngest vice-presidents in US history if sworn into office in January.
``They are not a monolithic bloc, if someone could get the lion's share of the [youth] vote, it's an automatic win. I do think there will be a certain amount of pride and excitement generated in large segments of that group because this is the first time that anyone in that generation has run for national office,'' says Bush campaign manager Lee Atwater. ``He's a phenomenon, which is going from nowhere to somewhere.''
Actually, it is less than accurate to characterize Quayle's origins as ``nowhere.'' While it is true that he grew up in a small community in Indiana, he also grew up in a family that controls one of the country's largest publishing fortunes.
Nor could Quayle ever have been characterized as a ``failure'' from which he could become a shining ``success'' - at least, not in the sense that, say, Harry Truman became President after bankrupting himself as a haberdasher. Graced with a handsome face, a winning personality, and wealthy parents, Quayle himself admits to having led a charmed life, once telling an interviewer that the only thing he could recall ever losing was an election at a college fraternity.
Indeed, Quayle's childhood sounds like a full season of ``Mayberry, R.F.D.,'' except that Mayberry never had a family like the Quayles that controlled a trust estimated by Forbes magazine at $650 million. In any event, Quayle's Mayberry was the town of Huntington, Ind. - reasonably conservative, mostly white, mostly protestant, mostly middle-class. Like their neighbors, the Lian church.
Quayle's elementary school principal, Everett Goshorn, describes him as a ``bright youngster,'' a toe-head kid who liked to run through the fields and ice skate on the pond. In high school, Quayle was on the golf team and wrote for the school paper. He met his wife at Indiana University law school. Naturally enough, he was being groomed for the newspaper business. Politics was never a consideration.
Until 1976, that is. That year, the local Republican candidate for the House unexpectedly dropped out of the race. Party regulars, left casting about for an available alternative, asked Quayle, who was then working as the associate editor of the Huntington Herald-Press, to run. Quayle said yes.
He was the clear underdog against an entrenched Democrat, Edward Roush. ``No one even wanted to run against Roush,'' says Janet Houghton, a childhood friend. ``Danny's father didn't think he had a prayer.'' Still, Quayle plunged into areas of the Fourth District, which had weak ties to Democrats and where voters were receptive to the appeal of a fresh, young face. With the support of evangelicals and disaffected suburbanites, he slid to victory.
Since then, Quayle has become something of a political phenomenon in Indiana. His 1980 victory over Senator Bayh was close, though decisive. His reelection in 1986, however, came by the largest margin of any senator in Indiana's history, and it was facilitated by support of the very sorts of voters that the Bush campaign hopes to attract.
Yet for all this Quayle remains very much of an untested political commodity, so much so that political allies back home were a bit dazed at the news of his imminent nomination. ``While he's a very popular guy in Indiana, he doesn't have a national constituency,'' points out Indiana Lt. Gov. John Mutz. The astonishment was shared by other constituents as well. In downtown Indianapolis, says Brian Vargus, director of the Public Opinion Laboratory of Indiana University at Indianapolis, ``working people ... were just sort of shaking their heads.''
Indeed, Quayle has yet to be subjected to the rough-and-tumble that a truly brutal campaign - such as the one that the coming presidential contest promises to be - can inflict. His House race victories came in an area where his family name was well known. His first Senate victory was based on a theme - ``a new generation of leadership'' - that fit in nicely with the national political currents that swept Reagan and the Republican Party to victory that year. His reelection in 1986 - over the challenge of a Valparaiso, Ind., city councilwoman - was a foregone conclusion.
Moreover, his record in Congress has yet to be subjected to the sort of scrutiny that the Democrats and the press will inevitably apply. The only ripple of scandal in his private life concerns a weekend in 1980 with a trio of lawmakers, one of whom had a liaison at the time with a female lobbyist, who was working against a crop insurance bill. All three later voted against the bill, though all three denied that the lobbyist, Paula Parkinson, had influenced their votes. Quayle, meanwhile, was not accused of any assignations.
But his record as a senator could be held up to some potentially effective ridicule by the Democrats. The plant-closing bill Quayle fought against, for example, was finally signed by President Reagan, reportedly after a plea from Bush. Twice last year, Quayle joined a small band of conservatives voting against a bill to restrict federal funding of institutions that discriminated on the basis of sex, race, age, or handicap. Quayle and his fellow conservatives argued that such a bill would increase federal intrusion, expand abortion rights, and trample on religious freedom.
Indeed, the attacks have already begun. Hours after the announcement of Quayle's nomination, a Democratic staff member of the Senate Armed Services Committee offered a reporter a snippet from a floor debate late last year over a massive defense spending bill. In the debate, Quayle was opposing a Democrat-sponsored provision to ban anti-satellite weapons tests, partly because such weapons had proved to be such an effective defense for the US against Soviet attack in the best-selling novel, ``Red Storm Rising'' by Tom Clancy.
``At least,'' said the staff aide. ``We know he can read.''
Sen. Dan Quayle: a biographical sketch Born. Feb. 4, 1947, Indianapolis Education. DePauw University, Greencastle, Ind., BA 1969; Indiana University, Bloomington, Ind., JD 1974. Military career. Indiana National Guard, 1969-75. Occupational history. Indiana attorney general's office, 1970-71; administrative assistant to Gov. Edgar Whitcomb, 1971-73; Indiana Department of Revenue, 1973-74; associate publisher, Huntington (Ind.) Herald-Press; lawyer. Family. Wife, Marilyn Tucker Quayle (a lawyer); three children. Religion: Presbyterian. Political career. US House, 1977-81; US Senate since 1981. Congressional committees: Armed Services, Budget, Labor, and Human Resources. Views on social and foreign policy issues Abortion. Opposes federal funding of abortion, except in cases of incest or rape. Civil Rights Restoration Act. Opposed initial passage and a subsequent override of presidential veto. Contras. Supports military aid to the Nicaraguan rebels. Death penalty. Favors capital punishment for drug dealers. Farm aid. Advocates drought relief for farmers. Military. Favors Strategic Defense Initiative; voted for INF Treaty, banning intermediate-range nuclear missiles. South Africa. Supports limited sanctions against South Africa. Key Senate votes 1983 Overturn Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion Yes Allow chemical weapons production Yes Create Martin Luther King Jr. holiday Yes Bar funding for MX missile No 1984 Permit school prayer Yes Keep tax indexing Yes Retain funds for ``star wars'' defense research Yes 1985 Produce MX missiles Yes Weaken gun control laws Yes Reject school prayer No Limit textile imports No 1986 Amend Constitution to require balanced-budget amendment Yes Aid Nicaraguan contras Yes Block chemical weapons production No Impose sanctions on South Africa Yes 1987 Override Reagan's veto of highway bill No Mandate retaliation against unfair trade practices No Limit testing of antiballistic missiles in space No Continue compliance with SALT II missile limit No Confirm Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork Yes Reject plan to place nuclear dump in Nevada No SOURCE: CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY