LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) _ Republican state legislators appeared Wednesday to be divided over whether the controversy surrounding Dan Quayle is diverting attention from GOP nominee George Bush's message to the voters.

Quayle, the Republican vice presidential candidate, received a warm welcome from the Southern Legislative Conference for a brief speech that followed an address by his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas.

Afterward, several GOP legislators said in interviews that the attention focused on Quayle's service in the Indiana National Guard during the Vietnam War and other issues is hurting the national Republican 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,'' Hainkel said.

State Rep. Bill Strong of Hazard, Ky., agreed.

''It's kind of stymied the ticket,'' Strong said.''It's dominated the news where Bush can't get his message across.''

State Sen. Jim Tysinger of DeKalb County, Ga., said that both Bush and the Democratic ticket led by Michael Dukakis have suffered from all the attention paid to Quayle.

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

Other GOP legislators saw some benefits flowing from the Quayle controversy.

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

''I think it's brought more focus to the ticket,'' said state Del. Martha Klima of Lutherville, Md. ''You don't hear anything about Dukakis and Bentsen anymore.''

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

''If I was George Bush, I wouldn't even consider that,'' Hainkel said. ''You'd infuriate every man who ever served in the National Guard, for one thing.''

Many lawmakers thought the news media would suffer a backlash if they kept alive questions about Quayle's National Guard service. Most said enough had been written and uttered about the subject.

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