Republican vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle came to Utah Friday to make a major statement on agriculture, not to seek a "safe haven" from questions about his past, according to his Washington, D.C., spokesman.
Jeff Nesbit dismissed speculation that the Indiana senator's visit was to take advantage of the state's strong support for President Reagan and the Republican Party."He's not choosing safe havens to visit," Nesbit said from Quayle's national headquarters. He said the national press would treat Quayle no differently here than they have since he was selected for the No. 2 spot by Vice President George Bush last week.
The senator continued to be dogged with questions about his National Guard service during the Vietnam War by the media at campaign stops in Missouri and South Dakota Thursday.
Quayle has been criticized for using his family's influence to secure a spot in the Indiana National Guard. Other questions have been raised about his association with a female lobbyist.
Besides making an as-yet-undefined statement on agriculture, Quayle also wanted to meet with leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to discuss the campaign, Nesbit said.
"It's not a courtesy call," the spokesman said of the 15-minute meeting that was to follow Quayle's scheduled 1:45 p.m. arrival at Salt Lake International Airport. "We want their counsel on the campaign. They are a major institution in American society."
Later in the afternoon, Quayle was to attend a political rally at the Davis County Courthouse in Farmington, where he was to give a half-hour speech at 3 p.m.
State Republican Party leaders aid Thursday that the Bush-Quayle campaign chose the site of the rally to reflect their respect for small communities.
Davis County prisoners did some quick remodeling at the courthouse Thursday to accommodate the surprise visitors. County officials learned late Wednesday of Quayle's visit.
A room that once housed the county's driver's license bureau was gutted so banks of telephones could be installed for the more than 50 representatives of national television and radio networks, newspapers and other publications who accompany Quayle.
Crews worked late into the night to put the finishing touches on the building, including installing a temporary speaker's platform on the courthouse stairs.
Several nearby streets and the courthouse parking lot were closed for the rally. A half-dozen local high school bands, hastily lined up Thursday afternoon, were quartered in the courthouse's east parking lot, providing music beginning at 1 p.m.
All court appearances scheduled for Friday, including a couple petitioning for a divorce, have been rescheduled so the courtroom could be used as a reception area for local, state and national dignitaries.
Nesbit said that suggestions that Quayle withdraw from the race "may add to the confusion, but I don't think it hurts that much." He said he was unaware of statements made by Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, about whether Quayle should step down.
Nielson told the Deseret News editorial board on Monday, "I think he should get out now and cut his losses," adding that the controversy surrounding Quayle hurts the ticket. The congressman later said those statements were misinterpreted.
Nielson, who was to appear with Quayle at the rally, issued a press release on Thursday apologizing for his part in overshadowing more important issues. He also apologized in the release for "leaving the impression that the National Guard was a second-class operation during the Vietnam War."