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Vice President Struggles To Overcome Poor Image

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LAST night, the GOP renominated as George Bush's running mate the most mocked man in America.

Tonight, Dan Quayle's aides are touting a "defiant" speech from a vice president who is mired again in the most intensive media derision since the first weeks after the New Orleans convention four years ago.

This is Mr. Quayle's best chance in four years to get the nation's attention on his own terms, to get Americans to meet him again, to remake their impression of him.

Raising the public esteem of the vice president will be extraordinarily difficult, and some political experts doubt that it can be done.

In recent weeks, he has been subjected to an intensive rumor campaign that he might be dumped from the Republican ticket. And for months he has been the goat of a new surge of late-night jokes on national television.

The derision is no trivial matter. "This man is a joke, and I don't think he'll ever be anything else," says Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia politics professor, who insists that Quayle is a far more serious and able politician than his image conveys.

"Comedians have created a kind of ventriloquist's dummy out of Dan Quayle," says S. Robert Lichter, co-director of the Center for Media and Public Affairs.

His image, says Dr. Sabato, "is almost cast in stone."

Quayle's critique of the values purveyed on the sitcom "Murphy Brown" and held by the cultural "elite" have added an edge of hostility to the jokes about him.

Spelling "potato" wrong has not helped either.

In his four years on the national stage, he has been an unusually active fund-raiser for Republicans and liaison to conservative networks. He has made a notable and controversial mark on serious issues, especially deregulation. His office is a central generator of ideas and initiatives in the administration.

But his introduction to the public was through a flurry of early news reports portraying a wealthy, privileged young man of modest talents whose parents had helped him into law school and out of Vietnam service.

Few if any of the specific allegations about Quayle were ever proved. But the news media was already engaged in what Sabato calls "the longest feeding frenzy in American history that wasn't a scandal." The public impression of him as a flustered lightweight has hardly budged at all.

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