Utahns who were asking "Who?" are better understanding "why" Vice President George Bush selected a relatively unknown senator as his running mate.

The presidential race will be a tight one, they say.But Dan Quayle's looks, youthful exuberance, not to mention his Midwest votes, will help carry Bush to the White House, said many Salt Lakers, who commented in a downtown mall while GOP politicians, in the heat of New Orleans, continued scrutinizing the 41-year-old senator and officially nominated Bush for president.

After watching the Republican National Convention for days, some local residents concluded that Quayle may be the best choice for the job - but not necessarily their choice.

"What little we have learned about him, he seems all right - young and personable," said Harold H. Watanuki. "I assume he was picked because he is from the Midwest and will appeal to the younger voters - and possibly to the women because he is so good-looking."

But Watanuki, a retired Salt Laker and self-declared "people watcher," said his personal pick would have been former Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole.

"They say Bush has difficulty relating to the mass of women voters - the so-called gender gap," Watanuki said. "Elizabeth Dole has a lot of savvy, is an attractive woman. She would have been an excellent choice - and my choice."

Beverly Patterson, an architectural draftsman, also wanted Elizabeth Dole to be Bush's running mate. But she thinks the aggressive Indiana senator and newspaper publisher will complement Bush.

Others, like Jani Randall and Peggy Tucker, think Elizabeth Dole's husband, Robert, would have been a better man for second in command.

While Robert L. Graham is convinced that Quayle "is a very smart man," he also believes a Bush-Robert Dole ticket would have been a stronger one.

Dwayne Allen, a second lieutenant in the Army, says Quayle, the first baby boomer on the national ticket, may be a little too conservative. "If he's more conservative than Bush, then he's too conservative. Jack Kemp or Bob Dole would have been a better choice," he said.

But Barbara Jacobsen, a retired Salt Lake school teacher and Dole supporter, disagrees.

"I can't think of anyone else who would complement Bush as much as Quayle," she said. "Bob and Elizabeth Dole are very strong people and may not have been able to sit back. They would have tried to run the presidency."

That's also the opinion of Carl Galbraith, a Mountain Fuel employee. "I think Quayle will be a wonderful running mate; he'll add a lot to Vice President Bush," he said. "I didn't know a lot about him until the last week or so when his name began to surface in the news.

"But now I think he will complement Bush better than Dole and the other people who were on the short list."

Patty Done also didn't know anything about Quayle until Tuesday, but the Murray housewife says, "He looks terrific." She, like others, believes he has a striking resemblance to Utah's Robert Redford.

"I think we need some young politicians; they might help our country," she said.

Most Utahns interviewed agreed that America needs help.

While Bush and Quayle might not be their choices to lead the country - the Republicans, they say, will likely win in November.

Dave Scott, a local jeweler and Michael Dukakis supporter, doesn't like the way Bush has handled himself in office for the past eight years.

"He blames the Democrats for things that have really been muddled through both parties," said Scott. "I think Dukakis, while a little ambiguous, has been nailing some issues on the head and is making some policy decisions, while Bush is refusing to say anything about what he is going to do as president."

As president?

"Bush has got a lot of negative publicity because of the Contra affair, but he also has a lot of support among Republicans," Scott said. "It will be close, but I think Bush will probably win."

Tucker, unhappy with the Reagan administration, would also like to see a change. But she, too, thinks "Bush will be our next president."

So does Patterson. Graham doesn't think it will be a walk-away for either, but a good contest. He hopes Dukakis wins.

Allen, on the other hand, isn't all that concerned about the possibility of Bush becoming president.

"He's the lesser of two evils," was his opinion.

And everyone on the street has one.