A generation of children has grown up and left home since the Springfield neighborhood was carved out of the old Kenwood Country Club golf course. The flowering trees have developed knots of age, but little else has changed in this Republican island set in a sea of Democratic suburbs.

Least of all its politics.

For years, the hardy cadre of Republicans in this slice of upper-middle-class suburbia has been warning of the dangers of a do-everything government. The lawyers among them have done battle with the regulatory agencies; the doctors have fought national health-insurance proposals.

In four of five presidential elections since 1960, the voters in Precinct 13 of the county's 7th Election District have helped Republican candidates carry their precinct with 60 percent of the vote. In 1964, the precinct came within five votes of going for Barry Goldwater.

Springfield represents a different kind of Republican heartland: The world of people who have made it, who feel they have earned some of the good things America has to offer -- country club memberships, Caribbean vacations, and jobs that pay $50,000 and challenge the mind.

Capturing this kind of constituency will be an important goal for George Bush and Ronald Reagan in the upcoming Maryland Republican primary. But with less than two weeks to go before the May 13 primary, what emerges from interviews with five randomly selected Republican families has less to do with the merits of individual candidates or their positions on specific issues than with one overriding concern.

The federal government, they feel, has grown too large. It should be smaller and it should leave people alone.

For the first time in years, there's a sense that the rest of the nation is moving their way. As they look toward the elections in November, they believe the rest of the country is coming to its senses and joining them.

"Our government is too big. It's losing its ability to act decisively in critical areas because it's spread too thin," declares retired attorney Edward Kenneham.

"I do feel people are creeping back to that kind of philosophy," he adds. "No, it's more than a creeping back."

Kennehan, 67, who worked for the Federal Communications Commission in the 1950s and did legal battle with it in the years that followed, will vote for Ronald Reagan in the primary.

"I don't think he's a throwback to the past," Kennehan says. "I don't think we should have left the past as fast as we did."

His wife, Pauline, has no preference, at least not publicly. As president of the Rock Creek Republican Women's Club, she has good things to say about all Republicans, from moderate-to-liberal Sen. Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md.) to conservative Rep. Robert Bauman (R-Md.)

But, like her neighbors interviewed in this random sampling, there is a conservative bent to what she says, a feeling that government costs have become "horrendous" and government in general has an arrogant sense of its own importance.

Some of these Republicans, like Kenehan, are drawn to Reagan as a prophet of the old values of hard work and small government. Others support him because they feel his nominaton now is inevitable. Still others feel George Bush has more breadth and experience.

But all consider self-reliance to be among their chief virtues, the cornerstone of their Republicanism.

"An awful lot of people in this neighborhood have what they have through their own effort," explains Fred Whisenhunt, a patent attorney who has lived here with his wife Ann and their three children since 1960 -- a relative newcomer in this suprisingly stable suburb of a transient city.

"These people didn't start with very much," adds Whisenhunt, whose father was a postal clerk in Newton, NC.

But since they came here, they have developed themselves financially, worked for their churches -- all those interviewed were Roman Catholics or Methodists -- for their PTAs, for the Rotary and the Boy Scouts, and sometimes for the Republican Party.

Fred and Ann Whisenhunt, both 46, are lukewarm about Reagan. Whisenhunt would have preferred to support Sen. Howard Baker and his wife was atracted by John Connally's bluff, forceful style. As for Reagan: "He didn't do that much as governor of California, but he didn't do that much wrong, either," says Fred Whisenhunt.

Both of them find Reagan infinitely preferable to Carter; they shake their heads in frustration when they talk of the economy or the hostages in Iran.

A few blocks away from the Whisenhunts, past the houses of independent presidential candidate John Anderson and House Minority Whip John Rhodes, live the Santuccis: a psychiatrist and his wife -- a criminology student -- and four of their eight children.

Self-reliance is their credo, too, but their brand of Republicanism is not easy to define. They are more liberal than many of their neighbors; they have voted for Democrats every now and again. But their belief in the free marketplace and the importance of the investor is a strong theme of all their political discussions.

Fran Santucci, 53, is an aficionado of Gerald Ford, largely because "he's a cool character" and because she believes he had the name recognition to beat Reagan in a primary.

Dr. Peter Santucci, by contrast, supports George Bush -- "a man who could get the job done" -- although he feels that the presidency is largely a hollow office, "a ventriloquist's dummy for a lot of professional advisers."

Santucci finds Reagan "very manufactured" and given to pomposity and superficiality, and he has a deep distrust of the state the Republican front-runner emerged from.

"I regard California as anathema to civilation," Santucci says. "It encourages the worst part of life -- apathy, sunbathing and self-indulgence."

That is not the way Tom Barrett Jr. sees it. Barrett, an insurance executive, and his wife, Pat, have voted Republican ever since they moved to Jordon Road in the 1950s. While Barrett once was campaign treasurer for Gilbert Gude, the former moderate Republican congressman from Montgomery County, Reagan now is his man.

"There's been a reaction to the liberals, to the problems they have created -- deficits, foreign policy, you name it," said Barrett. "It's going to take somebody who's not 'me-too' to fix it."

His wife agrees. She finds Bush "very personable -- he comes on well in the media. But the criticism he received about not speaking to the issues was justified . . . Don't say anything and you'll be all right, that's what the Bush people seem to think."

The Barretts also feel some bemusement, and a sence of vindication, as they watch acquantances who once grimaced at the mention of Reagan's name slowly come around to supporting him.

"I have laughed to myself at the people who say they're going to vote for Reagan," Pat Barrett says.

For their neighbor, Robert Cell, who measures every governmental decision in terms of its economic impact, a Reagan candidacy is only logical.

"His approach, his thinking all coincide with what I want to see done," Cell says. "People want to be productive and they want to be paid what they are worth. They don't want 20 percent of their income being taken away by inflation and great amounts of their earnings cut into by high taxation . . ."

On the bookshelves of this retired banker and Harvard Business School graduate sit the collected works of James Fenimore Cooper and Rudyard Kipling, writers who seem to exemplify his belief in individual man and the frontier ethic.

But when Cell, who is in his mid-60s, talks of inflation, it is as economic concept somewhat remote from the daily realities of shopping for food of clothes. Almost every year, the Cell family goes to the Caribbean in the winter.

When Cell talks of political issues, referring to the latest information provided by the Wall Street Journal or bank newsletters or Business Week, he doesn't mention crime. With the exception of Fran Santucci, who has a degree in criminology, neither did the other Republicans interviewed.

Financially and physically, they feel secure: there is inflation and there are burglaries, and a recession may be underway, but these things have little direct impact on them.

Springfield Republcans don't talk much about racial issues either; there are very few black and Hispanic families living there, and most who do are in the diplomatic corps.

When these voters talk of the way things should be, they look back to the Eisenhower era, a time when many of them had just moved to Washington from Rochester or New Jersey or Indiana, and when inflation was low and expectations were high.

"The best years of our lives were the Eisenhower ones," says Tom Barrett.

"I wasn't making as much money as I am now but we were confident, optimistic about the future."

Pauline Kenehan, who worked for the Republican National Committee in the early 1970s and has autographed pictures of Tricia Nixon's wedding on her den wall, looks back fondly to the Nixon years. Her husband reaches back to the days of Calvin Coolidge, when asked at what time things were best in the United States.

The Kenehans, Whisenhunts, Santuccis, Barretts and Robert Cell all want a change more than anything else.

"The services I get from government aren't worth what I'm paying for them." Fred Whisenhunt says bluntly. His wife agrees, and adds, "I can't understand why there aren't more Republicans."

"The reason," Whisenhunt answers abruptly, "is that if one candidate promises to give someone something and another doesn't, the one who promises is going to get the votes."

But this year may be different, they say. As Pat Barrett, looking toward a Carter-Reagan election in November, put it: "This year we have a better choice than in the past."

"Yes," agrees Tom Barrett. "More of a choice."