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Just as Carter Did, Quayle Could Surprise His Detractors

DAN QUAYLE seems to have Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan in mind as he positions himself for what appears to be a try for the presidency in 1996. Like Nixon he will run against the press. And like Reagan he will be a true-blue conservative.

That is what Mr. Quayle is saying in his new book, ``Standing Firm.'' On the surface the book seems to be the former vice president's explanation of how, as he sees it, he got a raw deal: first when he became a candidate and then when he served under President George Bush. He still affirms his differences with a number of top Republicans, including those who were close to Mr. Bush.

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In his book, and at a recent Monitor breakfast, the basic Quayle point of view clearly shows through: He thinks that the Bush administration was a departure from Reaganism. He says that Bush should never have reneged on his pledge to not raise taxes. And he says he told Bush how he felt at the time.

Quayle suffers from a widespread belief that he is a genial but not-too-bright fellow who has a penchant for putting his foot in his mouth and he is far better as a golfer than as a public official.

Part of Quayle's problem is his soft voice and a manner that appears rather tentative even when he is delivering strong words and a harsh message.

From the moment Quayle appeared on TV as Bush's newly selected running mate, the public, even without the often-unfair jabs at him from the media, was finding it difficult to visualize this very nice, friendly man as a possible occupant of the White House.

Since then, Quayle has been struggling to be taken seriously as a leader. He would show an impressive command of foreign affairs at a Monitor press breakfast only to stub his toe a few days later in spelling ``potato.'' And there never was a letup of bad raps against Quayle from members of the media who had long since made up their minds that he was a rather inconsequential politician.

Dan Quayle as a presidential candidate could fool all his detractors. I am reminded of Jimmy Carter and how he came from nowhere to make it to the White House. Quayle is by no means Carter. But I do see a possible similarity.

Carter was a guest at Monitor breakfasts when he was a young governor and several times later as a presidential candidate and president. I vividly recall the reaction of journalists to Carter's early disclosures to us that he intended to run for president. We liked this quiet-voiced, friendly fellow, but we couldn't take him seriously as a presidential candidate. I heard again and again from political correspondents that Carter ``wasn't forceful enough'' to persuade voters that he could be a good president. Carter had to win a few primaries before the press began to see he had the stuff to go far.

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But no one had been making jokes about Carter and showing contempt for him. That is what Quayle is up against.

After the Monitor breakfast of a few days ago, where Quayle fielded questions with rather impressive facility, I heard little praise among reporters as they departed. Again and again they said: ``He's a lightweight.''

Quayle, like Carter, is a strong family man. In speeches to new staff members in his administration, Carter would advise those who had unmarried relationships to get married. Quayle as a presidential candidate will be espousing traditional family values and will be asserting that he practices what he preaches.

This might be a persuasive position with a lot of Americans in 1996 - particularly in the Republican primaries.

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