Democratic vice president candidate Lloyd Bentsen on Wednesday criticized Republican Dan Quayle over a recent vote and questioned the Indiana senator's readiness for high office, saying Americans can't risk "youthful indiscretion" in someone so close to the presidency.
The 41-year-old Quayle touted his own role in drafting jobs legislation as he sought to overcome the controversy that has plagued him in the week since he became George Bush's running mate.Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis picked up the formal endorsement of the AFL-CIO and union president Lane Kirkland took the opportunity criticize the Reagan administration for favoring "greed over need." Bush was on the West Coast and scheduled a joint campaign appearance late Wednesday with a vacationing President Reagan.
Bentsen's comment about Quayle was his harshest to date, and it came in a speech to Southern legislators meeting in Lexington, Ky.
He said that Quayle was one of 11 senators to vote earlier this year against legislation making the Veterans Administration a Cabinet-level agency. Then, Bentsen said, Quayle told the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Monday his vote was a "youthful indiscretion" and he had changed his mind.
Said the 67-year-old Texas senator: "A youthful indiscretion? My friends, that vote occurred only five weeks ago. I don't think America can risk youthful indiscretion in someone who could become our president at any moment."
Bentsen, a World War II bomber pilot, also indirectly zinged Quayle on his National Guard service, saying "some of the things that happened to me early on in combat make you grow up pretty fast."
Quayle was in Cincinnati on the first stop of his first solo campaign tour since joining the GOP ticket.
The Indiana senator said the Job Training and Partnership Act, which he helped draft in the early 1980s, had provided jobs for millions of workers, including women, minorities and the poor.
"This program is working. We have trained 3.4 million economically disadvantaged people in America so far, and there will be millions more," he said.
Quayle's appearance in Cincinnati marked the latest in a string of attempts by the Republicans to shed the controversy that has plagued the GOP ticket.
Bush told reporters on Tuesday his campaign for the White House would get back on track "whenever you stop asking me these questions."
But Bush also told a crowd of supporters gathered in front of the California State Capitol in Sacramento: "I'm not going to let some insidious rumormongers drive me to change my mind. I'm standing behind Dan Quayle."
Quayle is facing questions about his National Guard duty at the height of the Vietnam War, admission into law school and claims by former lobbyist Paula Parkinson that he propositioned her eight years ago during a golf vacation in Florida with two other congressmen.
Parkinson told Playboy magazine she rebuffed Quayle's advances because she was there with then-U.S. Rep. Tom Evans, a Delaware Republican.
"We flirted a lot and danced extremely close and suggestively," Parkinson told the magazine,according to excerpts of the article released Tuesday.
Washington attorney Glenn Lewis, who represented Parkinson when she was questioned by the FBI in 1981, said Playboy's account agreed with what she told the FBI.
But Quayle said he had "nothing to do with her," adding, "this is just getting a little bit outrageous and I'm getting a little bit indignant about just one bum rap after another."
Dukakis spent Tuesday campaigning in Massachusetts, where he borrowed a line from Bush to criticize the vice president's budget plan.
"There is no Republican plan," Dukakis said. "The vice president is talking about a flexible freeze. That's like a melting ice cube. That's the son of voodoo economics." Bush criticized Ronald Reagan's economic proposals as "voodoo economics" in 1980 when the two were competing.
The Bush campaign also is backing away from Bush's declaration to create 30 million new jobs, the New York Times said Wednesday.
Robert Zoellick, senior economic adviser to Bush, said the vice president used the figure in his acceptance speech at the Republican convention to express a general goal rather than to promise 30 million new jobs.
The AFL-CIO's Kirkland deadpanned, "I don't want to be so crass as to suggest that the vice president's use of that figure is more `voodoo doo-doo.' I don't recall that he said 30 million jobs in the United States."
Kirkland said, "They've created quite a few million jobs in South Korea and Taiwan and Japan, as plants are closed and moved overseas, along the Mexican border, and if that's what he has in mind it's not going to be very helpful."
Bush continued to enjoy post-convention gains in the polls.
A new Gallup poll said Bush was leading Dukakis, 48 percent to 44 percent, among registered voters. However, the survey had a margin of error of 3 percentage points, meaning that either figure could be off by that much.
There also were signs of progress being made on a debate schedule between the two presidential contenders, with Dukakis campaign chairman Paul Brountas to meet with his counterpart in the Bush campaign, James A. Baker III, next week.