Barry Goldwater says he wouldn't have bet against a 1988 Democratic ticket headed by Mario Cuomo, and that he's glad he was sitting down when he heard that George Bush had picked "nice kid" Dan Quayle as his running mate.

Regardless, Goldwater, "Mr. Conservative," long known for blunt talk, offers a two-word prediction on the presidential race: "Bush. Big."With a cane at his side, the former Republican senator from Arizona offered his view of politics in a wide-ranging interview during a promotional tour for his new book, "Goldwater."

Nearly two years into retirement from the Senate and two months shy of his 80th birthday, Barry Goldwater is still speaking out - clearly, incisively, colorfully.

He says he is fed up with the "negativism" of the presidential campaign.

"I suggest that Bush and (Democrat Michael) Dukakis quit calling each other names, shake hands and come out talking about the issues.

"If we don't get a better oriented campaign on the issues, I think this could be the lowest turnout of voters in history."

Goldwater now lives year-round in Scottsdale, Ariz., and lectures at Arizona State University. His wife, Peggy, died three years ago.

His mind remains sharp. Name an issue:

Political campaigns - "There's been a lot of dirty campaigning. These 10-second TV spots that try to convey that the other guy is an sob. Not just in the presidential race but in state and local ones too. I never did it. And I don't like it. I like people to get up and say what they think about the issues."

Who will win the presidential race? - "Bush. Big. I thought that ever since the race started. Dukakis started out as an unknown governor from Massachusetts. Bush started out with a long record of public service at the federal level - an ambassador to China, United Nations, head of CIA, head of Republican Party. Bush was way ahead of him in being known by the public."

Dukakis - "I never met Dukakis. But I'm impressed with him. He has a hell of a brain and knowledge of what he is talking about. But he is from (liberal) Massachusetts, and to the rest of the country that's almost like living in Greece."

The presidential debates - "I don't think they are particularly helpful for the American people because the candidates don't debate. I can't recall what the hell they did talk about."

What kind of president would Bush be? - "I think he'd be a hell of a president. I don't know of many in my memory who has had such good qualifications. Personally, I like him. I have to tell you, I'm prejudiced, not just because I'm a Republican. I served with Bush's father (Prescott Bush) in my first Senate. He was a fabulous man. I've known George ever since he was a freshman at Yale."

Ronald Reagan's presidency - "First term, I'd give him an eight or a nine on a 10-point scale. Second term, I'd say a five or six. He ran into problems in his second term that he had no control over or had control over and didn't do much about."

Will Bush be as good a president as Reagan? - "I think he'll be as good a president."

Dan Quayle - "I like him a lot. He's a nice kid. When he came to the Senate he was assigned to my Armed Services Committee. He did a hell of a good job. Of course the next question that comes up, the one disturbing most people, is he capable to step up to be president if he has to? I'd have to say if you had asked me that about Harry Truman six months after he became vice president, I'd have said, `Hell no.' But if you'd ask me now, `Who was the best president of this century, I'd say, `Harry Truman.'

You never know. When you have to move into the Oval Office, whether you do good or not, depends a lot on what's going on, what kind of help you get from Congress. I did not think that he would be named vice president, and I was kind of surprised when my daughter told me. I'm glad I was sitting down."

Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, D-Texas - "He is a hell of a good man. He has done a good job in the Senate."

Mario Cuomo - "I'm glad he didn't run for president this year. He would have been very difficult for the Republicans to beat. I wouldn't have bet against him."

Do you miss Congress? - "No. It isn't the body it was when I came 35 years ago. When I came we had a lot of giants concerned with what is good for the United States. Today, the impression I get is that the average member of Congress has only one interest: get re-elected. I don't think they do anywhere near a competent job."

If Harry Truman, as you say, is the best president of the 20th Century, who's the worst? - "Richard Nixon. Dishonest. I've known a lot of dishonest people, but he takes the cake. He lied to his children, his wife and his country."

The 1964 presidential election - "That's where the negative campaigning started, I think. Johnson started using those oddball ads, like the little girl picking daises and a bomb going off. Losing the election never bothered me. I wouldn't let it. We knew we couldn't win. The country wasn't ready for three presidents in 21/2 years. I hope it never is."

John F. Kennedy - "I looked forward to running against John Kennedy (in 1964). We discussed the possibility of renting or borrowing an airplane and flying around the country together. In each city, we'd debate the issues. It would have been like the old Lincoln-Douglas debates. The people would have enjoyed it. I'm just as sorry as hell that he didn't live. I liked John Kennedy. I use to kid him about being a liberal."

Growing old - "I'm having a ball."