LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) _ Republican Sen. Dan Quayle, whose candidacy for the vice presidency has been dogged by controversy, should be thankful he's not being ignored, say Republican legislators.

''They say that as an elected official, even bad press is good press,'' said state Delegate Martha Klima of Lutherville, Md.

Quayle, who spoke to the Southern Legislative Conference on Wednesday, was unanimously endorsed by fellow Republicans, who said his troubles actually may help him in the long run.

''It has added to the party and I want to thank the press,'' said West Virginia Delegate Robert Jones of Martinsville. ''It's inviting more questions, and I think the exposure's good.''

It was one of the first appearances Quayle has made on his own on the campaign trail since his selection by GOP presidential nominee George Bush.

The most persistent questions have been about whether he used his family's influence to gain a spot in 1969 in the Indiana National Guard to avoid a tour in Vietnam.

Kentucky Rep. Ken Harper of Crestview Hills said the publicity has turned what would have been a two-month job of introducing the relatively unknown Quayle to the public into a free advertising campaign.

''It's taken a person who was not well-known and made him a household word,'' Harper said.

Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, the Democratic vice presidential running mate of Michael Dukakis, preceded Quayle on the platform before the Southern lawmakers.

Other Southern GOP lawmakers said the attention focused on Quayle has taken away from the GOP ticket.

''I think anytime you spend a lot of time about an ancillary issue ... obviously it's divisive,'' said Louisiana state Sen. John Hainkel of New Orleans. ''It hasn't been good because it's taken the spotlight off the things we ought to be talking about.''

Kentucky state Rep. Bill Strong of Hazard agreed, saying, ''It's kind of stymied the ticket. It's dominated the news where Bush can't get his message across.''

Georgia state Sen. Jim Tysinger of DeKalb County said the Democratic ticket also has suffered by the attention paid to Quayle.

''It has hurt both of them,'' Tysinger said. ''Dukakis hasn't been in the news and neither has Bush.''

No Republican said Quayle's problems are serious enough to warrant his dismissal from the GOP ticket.

''I think it would be terrible to take him off the ticket,'' said Hainkel. ''If I was George Bush, I wouldn't even consider that. You'd infuriate every man who ever served in the National Guard for one thing.''

Many lawmakers thought the news media would suffer the consequences of a backlash if they continued to harp on Quayle's service in the National Guard.

There was unanimous agreement that enough had been said about the subject.

''It's detracted from what the American people need to know,'' said Tennessee state Rep. Edward H. Moody of Morristown.

''Maybe we can get on to some of the campaign issues now,'' added Maryland's Klima.