District of Columbia Republicans constitute a small minority of the city's voters, just under 20,000 at last count, but the noise they're making in preparation for the May 6 primary election threatens to drown out their more numerous -- and usually more contentious -- Democratic opponents.

The 11th-Commandment-According-to-Ronald Reagan used to be "Never speak ill of another Republican." The 12th, Washington-style, seems to be "Disregard last notice."

The GOP is locked in a rare power struggle, with warring slates vying not only for election as delegates to the national convention, but for control of the local party structure as well.

One reason for all the Republican activity this year is the chance that a Republican could be elected president in November, thus increasing the power of the Republican Central Committee.

The committee would then expect to be consulted on federal appointments that affect the District, and its members would have considerably more political clout as liaisons between the White House and the District.

"The presidential election has a lot to do with this," one central committee source said. "I think some people would very much like to get some fancy White House appointments."

Full slates of 14 delegate candidates each have been formed on behalf of candidates John Anderson and George Bush, and two uncommitted delegate slates -- one leaning toward Ronald Reagan, the other more moderate -- have also been formed.

But the real action is in the battle for 70 contested seats on the Republican Central Committee, and a major issue is the stewardship of party chairman Paul Hays.

Basically, the central committee raises funds for Republican candidates, promotes voter registration and keeps the party organization intact between elections.

Hays and a number of allies have assembled an "incumbent" state committee slate, but they are being challenged by a renegade slate that claims to have no ideological bias except "the promotion of the Republican Party."

"Party registration under that administration has gone from 25,000 to 19,000," charged communications attorney Joseph Ryan, a leader of the upstart slate. "They're not promoting the growth of the party. They're presiding over its liquidation."

Central Committee member Ted Cormeny, a backer of the incumbent slate, charges that the challengers are representative of the Reagan wing of the party and are not representatives of the city as a whole.

Cormeny maintained that the incumbent party structure has broadened the party's appeal, especially to blacks, and charged that the challengers' slate is based only in predominately white Ward 3.

"The issue is whether we're trying to become a competitive force around here, whether we're going to appeal to people and support voting rights for the District and all the other issues, or whether we're going to sit up there in the Watergate and read Spengler," Cormeny said.

Ryan and others involved with the rival slate bristle at being called Reaganites. "I'm sure we have some Reagan people, but hell, I was a Baker supporter," Ryan said. "I'm sure we wouldn't have even challenged if party membership weren't going down."

Each camp has filed a formal challenge to the petitions filed with the D.C. elections board on behalf of the other's state committee slate. The board is expected to rule on the challenges next week.

The democrats, meanwhile, haven't been all that quiet.

They have been wrangling for more than two months now over the formation of a slate of candidates for seats on the Democratic State Committee. Slates have been formed and "finalized" time and time again, only to turn to dust because of bruised egos and allegedly broken promises.

Two weeks ago, members of the state committee attempted to caucus to make another attempt at hammering out the slate, but adjourned after some members complained of an earlier slate-making meeting attended by some persons who were not state committee members but who had political clout.

A meeting last week to continue the discussions became a bitter shouting match, and ended with no final resolution.

"We'll have something to announce soon," said Robert B. Washington Jr., chairman of the state committee. Stay tuned.