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Robert Teeter, 65; Pollster Devised Bush-Quayle Ticket

June 15, 2004|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Robert Teeter, veteran Republican pollster and campaign strategist credited with proposing Dan Quayle as President George H.W. Bush's running mate and later blamed for losing the 1992 Bush-Quayle bid for a second term, has died. He was 65.

Teeter, Bush's senior polling advisor in 1988 and campaign chairman in 1992, died Sunday night of cancer at his home in Ann Arbor, Mich.

"Although he worked with four presidents and innumerable senators and governors, he never lost the values and the standards that he grew up with," said Peter Hart, the Democratic pollster with whom Teeter conducted a national polling program for NBC News and the Wall Street Journal. "He represented core American values."

Hart also praised Teeter as a "remarkable professional ... who not only understood the rough and tumble of politics, but, more importantly, understood the stakes for a democratic system."

A Bush loyalist since 1973 when the senior Bush became chairman of the Republican National Committee, Teeter by 1988 was in charge of what campaign gurus call "the message" for the GOP candidate.

Convinced that Bush would lose as the candidate of continuity, merely carrying on what President Reagan had forged over two terms, Teeter opted to style Bush as a president for the future.

One factor in that plan was to match Bush with a young, fresh-faced Midwesterner -- Dan Quayle, a U.S. senator from Indiana.

An article on The Times' Opinion page chided the pollster, after Bush announced the choice in 1988, writing that Teeter found Quayle "the same way a lonely heart finds companionship in the IBM age" -- by matching requirements with names in a computer.

With the Bush-Quayle victory that November, Teeter's already considerable influence increased.

He was offered a job as Bush's deputy chief of staff, but eventually declined, saying he wanted to remain in Michigan.

Teeter's lengthy indecision, however, later helped fuel criticism that he was responsible for losing the 1992 campaign, which was filled with false starts and mixed messages, because he could not make the tough decisions required by a campaign chairman.

Popular with news media and Bush supporters because of his approachable, quotable and no-nonsense demeanor, Teeter was blamed for the defeat by critics, and even friends, who said he was too polite and unable to say no.

Teeter, born in Coldwater, Mich., learned politics from his father, a Coldwater mayor who took him to his first national convention in 1964 in San Francisco. Young Teeter immediately talked himself into a job as a convention sergeant-at-arms.

After graduating from Albion College and earning a master's from Michigan State University, Teeter taught briefly and then joined the Detroit-based Market Opinion Research Co., rising to president.

In 1989, Teeter formed his own consulting firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich., naming it Coldwater Corp. after his hometown.

As a highly respected pollster, Teeter was known for an ability to excise data that didn't seem to make any sense and for his care in wording questions on polls to obtain valid results.

Teeter polled for Presidents Nixon and Ford, and in 1980, he worked for the elder Bush in his campaign against Reagan. By 1984, he served as television advertising coordinator for the Reagan-Bush reelection campaign.

Teeter is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, and two children, Katy and John.

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