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Marilyn Quayle : Long Before Dan Quayle Joined the Ticket, She Was His Adviser; Some Say She Could Be the Candidate

October 05, 1988|PATT MORRISON | Times Staff Writer

In the fall of 1972, in Washington, the Supreme Court was returning to work a few months after it had swept aside death penalty convictions across the nation.

And in Indianapolis, a couple of young law students--Marilyn Tucker, in the attorney general's office, and Dan Quayle, an assistant to the Republican governor--were assigned to work together to redraft Indiana's death penalty statute.

Shades of love and death: Somewhere over the law books, the capital punishment research sparked a courtship, and within weeks, the two were married by their law school dean.

"Isn't that just so romantic?" asks Marilyn Tucker Quayle, with a light laugh seldom heard publicly in her half-dozen embattled weeks of national campaigning.

"We started out as colleagues," and so they have remained, from marital partners to law partners to Capitol Hill, where, with a small congressional staff, "I became a very integral part of what Dan was doing legislative-wise."

Tonight, her husband, the Republican vice presidential candidate, Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle, will be on stage and on camera in a nationally televised debate. And Marilyn Quayle, who critiqued her husband's performance in practice debates and expects him to do "quite well," will be off stage, in the role she describes as "senior adviser" without portfolio or salary-- "definitely without the latter."

This was not what Marilyn Quayle had planned for this autumn. She had intended to start job interviews and get back to work after a decade of rearing children and helping her husband. Now her half of Quayle & Quayle is out on the stump, selling the Bush-Quayle ticket to voters as ardently as she would have pitched her own skills to employers.

She is 39 to Dan Quayle's 41, a mother of three--a smart, career-minded conservative, religious, devoted to her family and loyal to her husband, cast by the campaign as the epitome of the baby boom generation.

Treated as an Equal

Dan Quayle has praised her as "my best adviser," and "a very strong, independent-minded woman." Within the campaign, she says, "I am treated by both our staff and the Bush staff as an equal with anyone on the staff."

And after 12 years of political life, Marilyn Quayle--whose nickname, Merit, stuck all through law school--may be deft enough at the craft that someone who didn't know otherwise might ask: Which Quayle is the candidate?

"She's not only sharp but she seems to have . . . a political savvy that understands the game," says Reid Nelson of Indianapolis, who managed Dan Quayle's first campaign in 1976--and who came to understand quickly that Marilyn's presence was not window dressing. For starters, "she made it very clear she wanted me to get some new clothes."

And at the primary victory party at a club atop a Ft. Wayne bank, she dressed him down for the messy, unreadable campaign buttons, admonishing him in front of the GOP haute monde, " 'Before you do any thing in this campaign, you consult me first.' I felt about 2 inches tall," Nelson says.

More than a decade later, Nelson remains impressed with Marilyn Quayle. "She's very bright. In fact I'd say she's the brighter one of the two, if I had to pick, to be perfectly honest about it."

Looks Better in Person

While her husband's vaunted photogenic good looks seem to diminish somewhat in the flesh--the resemblance up close is as much to game show host Pat Sajak as to Robert Redford--Quayle in person looks better than she photographs: the slim, assured carriage of an English horsewoman, and a wide, toothy smile that occasionally lights up her tanned face.

And if her long 1960s "flip" hair style recalls her days as a Purdue pompon girl (as well as a class treasurer and student government cabinet member), her campaign style is all Big Ten football coach: deliberate and no-nonsense.

Early in the campaign, she witheringly dismissed, in rapid succession, suggestions that her husband had been selected for his looks, that the junior Quayles are rich, that Dan was a "draft-dodger" or an intellectual lightweight or had a relationship with a woman lobbyist.

She has been known to frost over at an unwelcome question or glower at reporters who direct offending queries at her husband, and she parries her own answers with courtroom adroitness. At public engagements, reporters have noted that when she looks at Dan Quayle, it is not with the doting, doe-eyed gaze of a Nancy Reagan, but with the appraising eye of an aide totting up points to praise and flaws to address.

Their public styles are a foil for each other. Where he is enthusiastic, she is reserved, even aloof. Where he has sometimes been known to wade wildly into tangled thickets of his own rhetoric, she speaks in measured, deliberate sentences.

Quayle "couldn't have picked a better (wife), especially when you're a goof like he is," said an Indiana lawyer and Democrat who knew her well in law school, and who did not want his name used. "I can't say anything bad about her except her political point of view."

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