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GOP CONVENTION '96

Quayle Helps Fire Up California Delegation

August 14, 1996|BILL STALL | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

SAN DIEGO — Finally, after a week of political infighting that left his voice raw and his face haggard, there was a twinkle in Gov. Pete Wilson's eye as he turned to former Vice President Dan Quayle and quipped: "One thing I forgot to tell you. This is a smart-ass audience."

The crowd of about 500 California Republicans--delegates to the national convention, alternates and guests--roared its approval. But then, considering the audience's mood Tuesday, it would have cheered just about anything.

It was an exuberance that was in marked contrast to the downcast atmosphere of the Republican state convention in Burlingame in February. Then, as candidates were slogging and slugging through the primary season, even the mention of the name Bob Dole drew more yawns and boos than cheers.

Even though Republicans face an admittedly uphill battle in the presidential race, Tuesday's celebratory mood showed what a little good news can do to the psychology of a political group. The Californians were reveling in Dole's selection of Jack Kemp as his running mate, the papering-over of the abortion-rights dispute and, just the night before, a rousing speech by retired Gen. Colin L. Powell.

In part, this is what a convention is all about--to rally the troops and boost them into fighting trim for the fall campaign.

The incident that touched off Wilson's good-natured description of the audience came as he was introducing Quayle to the state delegation. With 165 delegates, ranging in age from 22 to 82, the California contingent is by far the largest on the convention floor.

Wilson was recounting how Quayle had been attacked by critics during his gaffe-marked vice presidency, including his criticism of the "Murphy Brown" television sitcom for "mocking the importance of fathers" in the American social fabric when the main character chose to become an unwed mother.

Interrupting Wilson in mid-sentence, one excited delegate shouted: "And he was right!"

The exchange provided the ideal setup for Quayle's speech, as he repeatedly made fun of himself and some of his missteps, such as his inability to spell the word "potato" during an appearance with schoolchildren.

"Are you fired up?" Quayle asked the delegates.

"Yeah!" they cheered in unison.

"We'll I'm glad to be here with all the smart [pause] people from California."

Those people from California loved it.

Quayle went on to talk about the abuse he took for raising family values as an issue in 1992. Now, he said, President Clinton has taken on the issue as his own.

Referring to Clinton, Quayle said: "I tell you, I may have misspelled a few words in my life, but nobody has accused me of plagiarism."

Later, when Wilson was introduced to his own round of standing cheers and applause, he said: "You've got to be tired. Sit down."

Tired? Not this group. There were still three days to go.

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