Confident Quayle Says He Can Beat the Odds
By Dan Balz
He was in a holding room today, an hour after his no-frills declaration of candidacy before a small but enthusiastic home-state audience, and he was talking about the exhilaration he feels about the 2000 campaign for the Republican nomination.
"Running for president is so much different than running for vice president," he said. "It's hard to describe the difference, hard to describe how I feel. I am fully in control. It's my campaign, my staff, my agenda. I don't have to worry about being number two; I'm running for number one."
This campaign will be like his campaigns for the House and Senate, he said, when he beat the odds and defeated incumbent Democrats. It will not be like those he ran for vice president, when he had to take orders from others, run on someone else's agenda and became the butt of comedians' jokes. This campaign will be issue-oriented, inclusive, grounded in conservative principles.
"The American people are very fair," he said in an interview. "The American people, they love a comeback. . . . They support underdogs. I don't know when it will be. I know the media want to see a competitive race. This time around, since I'm not the front-runner the media may be more inclined to be a little bit helpful."
There were no balloons or bunting today, no made-for-television backdrops. Those will come in the spring as Quayle rolls out his campaign for the 2000 GOP nomination in carefully choreographed steps. This approach is designed to shed some of the baggage of his past before he formally launches his candidacy.
Today was a chance to set its themes – family values, deep tax cuts, better schools and a robust foreign policy – and to display a sense of confidence and purpose. "I will," he said in some of the first words uttered today, "win the nomination and I will beat Al Gore."
Quayle disclosed his intention to run two weeks ago in a time-tested forum, CNN's "Larry King Live" show. Today he announced the establishment of a presidential exploratory committee, even though he already has made a declaration of candidacy to the Federal Election Commission. The formal announcement will come in April in his home town of Huntington, Ind. Such is the cycle candidates now go through to attract attention.
But for Quayle, attracting attention is only part of the object. Attracting the right kind of attention is the key. The slow rollout, said campaign manager Kyle McSlarrow, will give the press plenty of time to replay all the old Quayle jokes and gaffes (now memorialized on Internet sites) before the formal announcement and give Quayle a chance to show he's changed. "It's important for people to see how he copes with it," McSlarrow said.
In his 11-minute statement today, Quayle was all business. The values American families hold dear are under assault, he said. The middle class is caught in a tax squeeze and needs relief. And he more than others is equipped to deal with a changing and dangerous world.
"Who's best qualified to be the next president?" he asked. "Who has the experience that is necessary to be the next commander in chief? Who's been there fighting for you? Who's been there fighting for your values? Who's been out there standing with you, never wavering, never backing down?"
Quayle said that when Republican primary voters and later all the American people begin to answer those questions, "I am convinced I will be the next president of the United States." He restated that he dislikes the term "compassionate conservative" that Texas Gov. George W. Bush uses to describe his philosophy. "Conservatives are compassionate," he said. "They always were and they always will be."
But the former vice president said later he knows that, beyond the issues, he must prove his appeal in this campaign. "It's a fair question," he said when asked about the doubts many Republicans – even some of his supporters – have about his electability. "I need to get out and put together a political organization and begin to raise money."
McSlarrow said Quayle hopes to raise $3 million by the end of March, and one of his first stops today was a luncheon with Indiana fund-raisers who will help form the backbone of his money-raising activities.
Old friends and allies do not underestimate the obstacles ahead for Quayle. "The biggest question people have is the question of can he win," said Rep. David M. McIntosh (R-Ind.), a former Quayle aide and a supporter of his 2000 campaign. "What I hear among Republicans is, 'I'd like to see him president but I want to make sure we have someone who can beat Al Gore.' He has to show he's got a good campaign."
Al Hubbard, another former Quayle aide who is supporting Bush, said Quayle might have overcome some of the doubters had he run for governor of Indiana after he left the vice presidency. But Hubbard added, "Because there is this low-expectations game going on, if he does better than expected in these early caucuses or primaries, then the perception could change overnight."
A Republican strategist who asked not to be identified said, "The only way to get over it is to be substantive on some relevant timely issues that are both appealing to the conservative base of the party, and at the same time are quality-of-life issues the average guy can understand. Quayle has never connected with the second part of that."
Quayle, who was joined by his wife Marilyn, will repeat the performance Thursday in his adopted home state of Arizona. Next week he will troop to Iowa and New Hampshire. And on and on. He is, he claimed, in good shape in those early states.
As he looked ahead to the coming campaign, he warned Republicans not to abandon principle for some soft center of the ideological spectrum. "If they try to run a me-too, theme-less, issue-less campaign, we lose," he said. "There's got to be differences, there's got to be choices. There's got to be a stand-up, firm, ideologically committed campaign."
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company