James Danforth Quayle was born on February 4, 1947, in Indianapolis, Indiana. After spending much of his youth in Arizona, he graduated from Huntington High School in Huntington, Indiana, in 1965. He then matriculated at DePauw University, where he received his B.A. degree in political science in 1969, and where he was a member of the fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon (Psi Phi chapter). After receiving his degree, Quayle joined the Indiana Army National Guard and served from 1969–1975, attaining the rank of sergeant. While serving in the Guard, he earned a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree in 1974 at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. At law school, he met his future wife, Marilyn, who was taking night classes at the time.
Quayle became an investigator for the Consumer Protection Division of the Office of the Indiana Attorney General in July 1971. Later that year, he became an administrative assistant to Governor Edgar Whitcomb. From 1973 to 1974, he was the Director of the Inheritance Tax Division of the Indiana Department of Revenue.
Upon receiving his law degree, Quayle worked as associate publisher of his family's newspaper, the Huntington Herald-Press, and practiced law with his wife in Huntington. In 1976, Quayle was elected by a wide margin to the House of Representatives from Indiana's 4th congressional district, defeating eight-term incumbent Democrat J. Edward Roush by a 55%-to-45% margin. He won reelection in 1978 by the greatest percentage margin achieved to date in that northeast Indiana district.
In 1980, at age 33, Quayle became the youngest person ever elected to the Senate from the state of Indiana, defeating three-term incumbent Democrat Birch Bayh by 54%-to-46%. Making Indiana political history again, Quayle was reelected to the Senate in 1986 with the largest margin ever achieved to that date by a candidate in a statewide Indiana race, easily defeating his Democratic opponent, Jill Long with 61%. His 1986 victory was notable because several other Republican Senators elected in 1980 were not returned to office. In 1986, Quayle was criticized for championing the cause of Daniel Anthony Manion, a candidate for a federal appellate judgeship, who was in law school one year above Quayle. The American Bar Association had evaluated him as "qualified", its lowest passing grade. Manion was nominated for U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit by President Ronald Reagan on February 21, 1986, and confirmed by the Senate on June 26, 1986. As of 2012, Manion continues to serve on the Seventh Circuit.
On August 17, 1988 at the Republican convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, George H. W. Bush called on Quayle to be his running mate in the 1988 United States presidential election. The choice immediately became controversial. Press coverage of the convention was dominated with questions about "the three Quayle problems", in the phrase of Brent Baker, executive director of the Media Research Center, a conservative group that monitors television coverage. The questions involved his military service, a golf trip to Florida with Paula Parkinson, and whether he had enough experience to be President.
Quayle seemed at times rattled and at other times uncertain or evasive as he tried to handle the questions. Delegates to the convention generally blamed television and newspapers for the focus on Quayle's problems, but Bush's staff said they thought Quayle had mishandled the questions about his military record, leaving questions dangling. Although Republicans were trailing by up to 15 points in public opinion polls taken before the convention, they received a significant boost that put them in the lead, which they did not relinquish for the rest of the campaign. Quayle participated in the vice-presidential debate of October 1988, alongside Democratic candidate Lloyd Bentsen. When the subject of the debate turned to Quayle's relatively limited experience in public life, he compared the length of his congressional service with that of former President John F. Kennedy. Bentsen's response — "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy" — subsequently become a part of the political lexicon. On January 20, 1989 he took the oath of office as the 44th Vice President of the United States at age 41.
Dan Quayle is widely considered to have been one of the most active Vice Presidents in history. In his constitutional role as Vice President, Dan Quayle served as president of the United States Senate. On February 9, 1989, President Bush named Dan Quayle head of the Council of Competitiveness, which worked to ensure US international competitiveness in the 21st century. He made official visits to 47 countries, was chairman of the National Space Council, and served as President Bush's point man on Capitol Hill. As a leader in causes from legal system reform to deregulation to the renewal of basic American values, Dan Quayle developed a large national following and became one of the most admired Americans of his time.
During the 1992 election, Bush and Quayle were challenged in their bid for reelection by the Democratic ticket of Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton and Tennessee Senator Al Gore, as well as the independent ticket of Texas businessman Ross Perot and retired Admiral James Stockdale. As Bush lagged in the polls in the weeks preceding the August 1992 Republican National Convention, some Republican strategists viewed Quayle as a liability to the ticket and pushed for his replacement. Quayle survived the challenge and secured renomination.
Quayle faced off against Gore and Stockdale in the vice-presidential debate on October 13, 1992. Quayle attempted to avoid the one-sided outcome of his debate with Lloyd Bentsen four years earlier by staying on the offensive. Quayle criticized Gore's book Earth in the Balance with specific page references, though his claims were subsequently criticized by the liberal group FAIR for inaccuracy. Post-debate polls were mixed on whether Gore or Quayle had won. It ultimately proved to be a minor factor in the election, which Bush and Quayle subsequently lost.