If the Republicans could clone her they would, so in demand is Barbara Bush by their candidates around the country. She's the believable Bush, the Bush everybody turns out for, the Bush for which $1,000 isn't a penny too much to pay to be photographed with. She's the "warm and fuzzy" Bush, as one candidate put it, the Bush who loves dogs, kids and old folks, the principled Bush even Democrats admire.

And in this season of angry candidates, party disarray, constituent nose-holding and George Bush's eroding popularity, Barbara Bush is also the safe Bush.

Her stump speech is like none you've ever heard, a recitation about 12 grandchildren, nine of their parents, two dogs, George's 89-year-old mother and 91-year-old aunt, one family funeral, one family wedding, feeding most of the country's top military brass and half the Cabinet, getting ready for one king, one crown prince and one prime minister who brought his family, George catching fish -- "thank Heaven!" -- getting an ear lobe hooked and never wearing the earrings everybody sent him afterward, flying to 14 states, 21 cities and two foreign countries since Labor Day, and all the while George coping with the budget, the Persian Gulf and "that dreadful dictator Saddam Hussein."

"But busy as we've been," says Barbara Bush, who has never met a campaign audience she didn't like, "nothing is more important to the Bushes than the election of this good, bright, wise man {or woman}. There's no question that Georgia {Illinois, Connecticut, Maine, Nebraska, Texas, Michigan, Ohio, California} needs new leadership. I'm here to praise the next governor {senator}. Any questions?"

If there are, it's a safe bet that she has the answers. Or an answer. "She's been hitting them all out of the ballpark," says a White House aide.

One of the First Lady's long suits is an ability to think fast even when she doesn't know the answer. The other day in Atlanta when reporters asked how she felt about states conducting lotteries, Mrs. Bush looked at her questioner but pointed to the Republican gubernatorial candidate standing on her right. "I feel just like Johnny," she said behind a wry smile. "And we'll talk about how he feels later."

"She and I never talked about the lottery," John Isakson explained after she left. "And I think she did exactly the appropriate thing. Politics change daily."

Isakson, not a candidate to bite the hand that feeds him, says he regards George and Barbara Bush as "equal in terms of the prominence they bring to the campaign." Then he adds that they are also "uniquely different, the president in that he's the president, and Barbara Bush, who has her own persona. She has a great way about her that really is to me every bit as important as her husband."

The White House calls her "the number one requested speaker -- aside from the president." The Republican National Committee calls her one of its "hottest properties." The Republican Governors Association drops the "one."

Says Michele Davis, the association's executive director: "In every campaign she's the first person everybody asks for." Ditto, says Dave Carney, special assistant to the president for political affairs, who is quick to qualify that a bit: With travel expenses running between $50,000 and $60,000 per trip, Carney says, a presidential visit is "out of the question for most campaigns. So they don't ask." Mrs. Bush's trips, on the other hand, cost a small fraction of that. She travels with two aides and her usual complement of Secret Service agents; another White House aide assisted by volunteers advances her trips.

Mark Nuttle, executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, says requests for Mrs. Bush do not outnumber those for the president. The NRCC is the same organization whose co-chairman, Edward J. Rollins, this week urged Republican candidates to distance themselves from Bush. Said Nuttle, however: "The president of the United States is still the president of the United States and there's a certain air and awe of the presidency -- and this president. But she certainly brings a unity to the White House that makes the average person feel a part of it... . People relate to her, feel they can talk to her about things affecting their lives."

Charles Black, chief spokesman for the Republican National Committee, who agrees that the president and vice president are "very popular," adds that "I'd just as soon have her anywhere I can get her."

"The president ends up bringing in more money {$81 million since January 1989} but Barbara brings in more goodwill, and from groups that wouldn't normally consider themselves part of a Republican coalition," says Davis.

Like the trouper she has been for the 30 years George Bush has been in politics, Mrs. Bush goes where sent, emphasizing party, with gubernatorial races her special mission this time around. Nobody has tallied up how much money she's raised for GOP candidates since January 1989, but since Labor Day she has made nearly three dozen solo trips on their behalf.

"George feels strongly that where the action is is on the state level," she told the media in Atlanta Tuesday. "It should be. So you want to make sure that there is great leadership at the top."

The RNC, whose game plan was drawn up by Chairman Lee Atwater last January, also wants to see that when state legislatures redraw congressional districts, mandated by the 1990 census, the presiding governors, with veto powers, are Republicans.

Not since Rosalynn Carter helped some candidates in the midterm elections of 1978 has a president's wife been so involved in someone else's campaign. And recently, as the president's popularity has waned, Mrs. Bush has stepped up her schedule to pinch-hit for him -- if asked.

"She is very attuned to our targeting strategy and will do anything, whether it's a $25 ice cream social or a $1,000 reception for high rollers," says RNC Press Secretary Leslie Goodman.

This week, for example, the First Lady's 12-seat Air Force Gulf Stream took her to Florida, Georgia and Texas as star attraction in two gubernatorial races and three congressional races. While she was at it, she picked up her literacy merit badge at the national convention of the Girl Scouts of America in Miami Beach and broke bread at the 100th-anniversary dinner of the Methodist Home in Waco, Tex.

No stranger to precinct politics or RNC strategies (George Bush was the party chairman in the mid-'70s, remember?), the 65-year-old First Lady is a campaign manager's dream. She knows her role, her lines, her candidates and the big picture. She fills in on the little picture -- local issues -- on her way in from the airport.

"She does not feel that there is a malaise inside the Beltway," says Goodman. "She inspires rank-and-file Republicans to pull the ticket through. There is no question that she can make people go to the polls."

There is no scientific evidence to support that, however. So White House and campaign staffers look for the effects of the generally positive media coverage she generates in a particular market.

"Mrs. Bush doesn't say a negative word and people like that. There is real disillusionment," says Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma, chairman of the Republican Senatorial Committee. "People don't want to see taxes increased or Medicare cut. The rating of Congress right now is about as low as it can get. We're defending 15 seats, the Democrats have 17 and there are three open seats. A lot of people may say a pox on both your houses. It's a wild season and races are rough, but Barbara Bush embodies what people like about our country."

Regional newspapers and television stations covering her appearances almost always have an "exclusive," since unlike President Bush, the First Lady -- by her own insistence -- usually travels unaccompanied by the Washington-based national media. "Press availabilities," a euphemism for reporter-feedings, are often notable for what reporters do not ask.

In Miami, where she appeared with Gov. Bob Martinez at Aspira, a program for educationally at-risk Hispanic youths, no one asked about the budget impasse, the three-month-old Persian Gulf crisis or the 1990 Civil Rights Act, which the president would veto the next day. What Mrs. Bush was asked were oblique questions about sons Jeb and Neil, both of whom have figured in savings and loan insolvencies.

Civil charges have been filed against Neil Bush for his role as a director of the failed Silverado Banking, Savings and Loan Association. In an unrelated case, when the Broward Federal Savings and Loan of Sunrise, Fla., became insolvent in 1988, the federal government paid more than $4 million to make good a loan that Jeb Bush and a partner had borrowed to improve a Miami office building they had bought. The New York Times reported that Jeb Bush later expressed surprise that the settlement could be interpreted as the use of taxpayers' money to repay the loan.

Did Mrs. Bush agree with Jeb, who said he was the victim of circumstances?

"Always," she replied.

Could she characterize Neil, someone else asked.

"I think I already have," she all but scolded. "We're in a very silly season. My boys have done nothing wrong."

In Atlanta, the more pertinent question among the press corps was the degree of George Bush's support for state House Minority Leader John Isakson in his race for governor. Bush had paid Isakson one visit, compared with three each for the neck-and-neck races of Florida Gov. Martinez against challenger Lawton Chiles and North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms against Democrat Harvey Gantt.

"Has he?" asked Mrs. Bush, appearing surprised by the frequency of her husband's appearances for Helms. "I didn't know that."

While Martinez, she said, is a "personal friend" of the Bushes, George's commitment to Isakson was no less ardent. And then she delivered the ultimate accolade.

"I see a lot of similarities between John and George. He's a successful businessman, he's met a payroll, he knows what it is to pay taxes, he's worked hard in his community. I think people who just live in a community and take but don't give back are not quite as qualified."

And then she asked: "Do you think I would have come if the president hadn't said, 'This is one you oughta come to'?"

The question seems to hang there while the television cameras spin. Two are "live," feeding the CBS and ABC affiliates. Other footage will appear on the nightly news.

Twenty-four hours later, the spread between underdog Isakson and Democrat Lt. Gov. Zell Miller has narrowed from nine points to zero, according to Isakson spokeswoman Ann McMahon, citing the findings of American View Point of Alexandria, Va., Isakson's official pollsters. "We've gotten a boost which we certainly believe can be attributed to Mrs. Bush."

Monday, in rural Marianna, Fla., population 7,000, where two-term incumbent Rep. Bill Grant is seeking reelection for the first time as a registered Republican, "live" television coverage of Mrs. Bush's visit preempted the popular game show, "The Price Is Right."

"We did not get one single complaining phone call," WTVY-TV News Director Jerry Vann said later of the Dothan, Ala., station, which covers 15 counties in the Florida Panhandle.

The candidate himself, who switched parties in February 1989 after a falling-out with the House Democratic leadership, never made it to Barbara Bush's side when 2,000 high school students from throughout Jackson County and 1,000 townspeople met her at the airport. He was grounded in Washington awaiting the outcome of the budget negotiations.

For Vann, the decision to cover Barbara Bush live hadn't been all that difficult. The station had carried Ronald Reagan live when he visited a few years back. "Then we took the tape and showed it in prime time. And people wanted to see it again. So we showed it after midnight and people still wanted more. Finally we had to say 'we just can't do it anymore,' " Vann recalled.

This time when he heard that Mrs. Bush was coming, he blocked out 45 minutes of air time and notified School Superintendent Bill Peacock that the station would be providing live coverage. Peacock, in turn, alerted the schools that children unable to be at the airport or at an elementary school Mrs. Bush visited later could watch the First Lady on classroom TVs.

After reading "Eloise and Her Antlers" to 852 kindergartners through second-graders at the school, Mrs. Bush talked briefly to the media, then started to leave. But there was one child who had a different idea.

"Can I have a hug?" he asked.

Says Vann: "It was made for TV."