With less than two weeks remaining before Ronald Reagan picks his vice president and none of his eight choices fully satisfying, serious attention is being quietly directed to a late addition: Gov. Albert Quie of Minnesota.
For Reagan belatedly to look over Quie is to find a rare gem overlooked before. No previously considered prospect so completely fills Reagan's specifications. While fully reassuring to centrist and traditional Republicans who still recoil from Reagan as a wild man out of the West, he is acceptable to conservatives and passes muster on issues vital to the New Right.
During 21 years in Congress before going home to run for governor in 1978, Quie won a reputation as a solid, thoughtful public servant. He became best known in the 1960s for crafting Republican alternatives to Great Society extravaganzas. While a moderate on civil rights and social welfare, he advocated high defense spending and voted against abortion. In Washington, he was an active evangelical Christian, but never alarmed others with his intensity.
Reagan scarcely knows Quie and is far from selecting him. The odds are still against Reagan's moving outside his list of eight. Nevertheless, the fact that new names are being considered reflects the unspoken view within the Reagan camp that nobody on that list fully satisfies their needs.
Sen. Howard Baker, favorite of the liberals and the news media, never had a chance. He is the most unacceptable to the right; Reagan knows Baker better than most on the list, and his opinion of him could be higher. William Simon was not seriously considered. Rep. Guy Vander Jagt and Donald Runsfeld have more detractors than supporters. Sen. Paul Laxalt is a Reagan intimate, but choosing a fellow conservative from neighboring Nevada poses problems.
That leaves the big three: Rep. Jack Kemp, George Bush and Sen. Richard Lugar. All serious conversation has revolved around them the past month.
Like Laxalt, Kemp is a personal favorite of Reagan. He is the most charismatic, innovative and perhaps the smartest of the lot. His oratorical talents and ability to swing blue-collar voters might overcome the immediate negative reaction certain from the media and liberals. But Reagan insiders, observing Kemp closely in recent weeks, have sadly concluded he still looks like a "college sophomore" even if he does not think like one.
At that, however, Kemp's chances are better than those of Bush, favored by traditional Republicans. While more acceptable to the right than is Baker, he may be less so to Reagon. Bush's dismal front-running performance in New Hampshire left a bleak and ineradicable impression on Reagon.
The survivor: Lugar. He is acceptable to everybody, has made an excellent impression during four years in the Senate and has no detractors. But unlike the Miss America pageant, the last contestant is not necessarily the winner. Looking at Dick Lugar as the end product of the elimination process, there is unease within the Reagan camp that he does not quite measure up.
So renewed observation of available Republican talent began last week. Al Quie popped out quickly as a Midwestern governor with impressive Washington credentials and connections to the farm vote. But a closer look shows he is much more than that.
A youthful-appearing 56, he has developed as governor into a more forceful speaker and television personality. Without drifting leftward, he has gained substantial support from rank-and-file Democrats in Minnesota; his statewide approval rating is 65 percent. Tax reduction has been his great feat as governor, fitting Reagan's national economic policy.
Indeed, Quie endorsed Reagon earlier this year than his liberal Republican backers preferred. Although his liberal voting record in Congress (measured by the Americans for Democratic Action) once rose to 72 percent, it was usually much lower than that. Quie's career conservative record (measured by the American Conservative Union) was only 54 percent, but his anti-abortion record is 100 percent. No other prospect gives much simultaneous reassurance to both left and right.
Quie's two obvious liabilities are that Ronald Reagan might not recognize him in a crowded room and that this inability is shared by most Americans. But Lugar is only a little better known to Reagan and no better at all to the rest of the country. While Reagan at this writing is not even close to picking him, the fact is that Quie gives some Reagon advisers a markedly better feeling than the prospects they have been examining for the past month.