The Magazine


Mar 1, 1999, Vol. 4, No. 23 • By TUCKER CARLSON
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Happily for his campaign, in Quayle's case the cliche is true -- he is much better in person. And in the Republican primaries -- true to yet another cliche -- in person matters. As Bobbie Gobel will tell you.

Gobel, who owns an employment agency in Des Moines, is chairman of the Iowa chapter of the Christian Coalition. A mother of seven who attends an Assembly of God church, she is precisely the kind of politically active evangelical that liberal Republicans are always accusing of having disproportionate influence in the party, particularly during the early months of presidential campaign season. The liberal Republicans are onto something. Several contenders have already stopped by to see Gobel, and by the time the Iowa caucuses are held next year, she'll likely be on a first-name basis with every Republican in the race.

A couple of weeks ago, Quayle's Iowa office called Gobel to arrange a meeting. Gobel agreed to see Quayle after a Rotary Club speech in Des Moines, though she admits now she was suspicious of the candidate. Aware that Quayle had campaigned for New Jersey governor Christie Todd Whitman in 1997, Gobel wondered if he would be as committed to conservative social values as he claimed to be. Then she met him.

Quayle immediately suggested they pray. Gobel and the former vice president pulled their chairs together, held hands, and bowed their heads. Quayle began. "He prayed for the healing hands of Christ to touch the nation," Gobel remembers, and he did it with compelling sincerity. "You do not pray the way Dan Quayle prayed unless you are a born-again Christian," she says. "That guy is drenched in the blood of Jesus Christ." Quayle went on to lay out the major planks of his platform, and to talk about his personal faith and family life. Gobel was particularly impressed by his marriage to Marilyn Quayle. "Dan Quayle," she says, "will have what no other Republican president has had: a wife who shares his belief that life is from the moment of conception to natural death."

Gobel's concerns about the Christie Whitman connection disappeared almost instantly. During his time in New Jersey, Gobel says, Quayle did much more than campaign for the famously pro-choice governor. He also spent time trying to change Whitman's position on abortion. Quayle, Gobel says, was "witnessing and planting seeds. He simply told her, 'What you are doing is breaking one of the Commandments, Thou Shall Not Murder.' He did it in a very loving way, and that's the way Jesus would want us to rebuke a sister or a brother. He was not harsh. It was a quiet boldness."

Gobel's enthusiasm for Quayle since their meeting has been anything but quiet. "I was so honored I was able to sit in a room and be with a brother of the Lord and to pray with him," she says. Pundits and consultants may write off a Quayle candidacy as a long shot, but Gobel sees a higher power at work in the race. Quayle, she says, "knows he has his work cut out for him, and he knows that it is the light of God that will see him through all of his endeavors. And he does not have fear because he knows that he can draw power from that light, that through Christ anything is possible. Those are the words that Dan Quayle spoke in that meeting."

As for the other Republicans currently trying to woo conservative Christians? Gobel speaks highly of Gary Bauer, whom she met earlier this year. On the other hand, he didn't pray with her. In January, Gobel sat down with Steve Forbes, and for a while it was rumored that the bespectacled publisher had won her vote. (The Forbes campaign even issued a statement announcing Gobel's endorsement.) But her encounter with Quayle seems to have changed everything. "Forbes didn't quote any scriptures when I spoke with him," Gobel says. Instead, he talked about his tax reduction plan -- a plan, she points out, that now seems mediocre "in comparison to Dan's. Dan's covers a wide spectrum. Forbes's helps the rich."

Quayle's campaign is betting that his appeal will extend not just to Bobbie Gobel's friends, but to at least some of Christie Whitman's as well. "He's the only one who can put the complete Reagan coalition -- economic and social conservatives -- back together," says Kyle McSlarrow. Here's the reasoning: While there are a number of candidates who might appeal to religious conservatives (Gary Bauer, Bob Smith, and Pat Buchanan, should he enter the race), all are either underfunded, not well known, or have never been elected to office before. After eight years of Clinton, says Kellyanne Fitzpatrick, "Republican voters aren't going to take their chances on an unknown commodity." Which leaves Quayle.

On the other side of the party -- Christie Whitman's side -- there is no candidate who has both Quayle's experience with foreign policy and his enthusiasm for tax cuts. Moreover, says McSlarrow, wealthy, pro-choice Republican donors aren't afraid of Quayle the way they would be of other social conservatives. "They know him," McSlarrow says, "they know he's not a nut." Which, again, leaves Quayle the obvious choice -- except for George W. Bush and Elizabeth Dole, neither of whom has been through a national campaign, and both of whom Quayle is privately confident of beating, if he can get them one-on-one.

Quayle doesn't seem worried -- not about raising the money, or about being away from home, or about riding from one ugly little New England mill town to the next for days on end in a white minivan full of 23-year-old volunteers whose names he doesn't know, and all for the privilege of answering nasty questions from badly dressed reporters who think he's a joke. None of it seems to bother Dan Quayle a bit. Not the sneers of the pundits or the skepticism of the political world. Not even giving up golf.

Tucker Carlson is a staff writer for THE WEEKLY STANDARD.