Helen Delich Bentley has got it, but hardly bothers to use it.

Newt Steers has got it too, and some say it has made all the difference in the world.

Ray Beck wanted it, but no such luck.

It is a Republican seal of approval of sorts -- one that carries with it the promise of extra campaign funds, election advice and a certain cachet that can help pry contributions from powerful political action committees.

Every two years, the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the National Republican Congressional Committee zero in on House races around the country where they believe that a GOP candidate -- given a helpful little shove -- could take the Democratic incumbent.

This time around in Maryland the two committees have targeted Steers' relentless race in the Eighth Congressional District against incumbent Michael Barnes, who knocked Steers out of office in 1978, and Bentley's attempt to unseat the crotchety Clarence Long, who for 18 years has served the voters in the Second Congressional District in Balimore County.

Though political sources say Beck sought targeting for his uphill battle against Beverly Byron in western Maryland's Sixth District, he was unable to get the special blessing of either committee.

That, according to local Republicans, was as much a comment on the incumbent's strength in the district, where the Byron name has been synonymous with Democratic politics for generations, as it was on the sophistication of Beck's own effort.

"Ray was not willing to put his campaign in the hands of a real professional for a long time, and when he finally did, it was too late (to get the designation)," said one source.

"There's a certain sensitivity about the whole thing," said another Republican.

Indeed, over at the National Republican Congressional Committee, they don't even like to use the word "targeting" when talking about the approximately 100 races across the country where the committee is putting in extra cash and expertise.

"We refer to them as areas of opportunity," spokesman Tim Smith said diplomatically. And running in a chosen area of opportunity can mean a lot to a GOP challenger.

For the Steers, it has meant about $12,000 in contributions from the congressional committee and the RNC, and another $8,000 worth of polling services. The RNC also takes credit for advising Steers to hire political media wizards Norman Bishop and Susan Bryant, who have been on his payroll since last year when he decided to attempt to avenge his 1978 loss to Barnes.

"That was the best piece of advice we ever gave Steers," said Alex Ray, who until recently was the RNC's field representative in Maryland. "He wouldn't listen to anybody two years ago, but now he's the ideal candidate -- a born-again candidate."

As for Bentley, the former head of the federal Maritime Administration, she caught the eye of the national Committees after pulling off an upset in her primary by beating Baltimore County Republican Chairman Malcolm McKnight.

"People said, 'My God, how did she do it,'" recalled state GOP executive director Tom Buckmaster. Then they looked and found out she had done it by hiring one of the top phone bank specialists in the country, identifying her voters and getting them to the polls," Buckmaster said. "And then everyone figured, 'Pretty smart.'"

"You've got to show (the national committees) you've got the stuff to do it on your own" in order to get their extra help, Buckmaster said.

Though Bentley's campaign has cheerfully accepted contributions from both committees, her staff has politely declined other help, including an offer to handle the buying of TV and radio time for her commercials.

"I don't like to sound like we're too independent," Bentley's campaign consultant John Billett said, "but I guess we are."

The targeting process begins in the two committees more than a year before the election when they conduct their "vulnerability polls" on the Democratic incumbents. The GOP's perception of the incumbents' weaknesses is the first factor in deciding which races to target.

Barnes was considered a likely target in part because of the inclination of Montgomery residents to elect liberal Republicans to Congress for the two decades before Barnes unseated Steers. And the 71-year-old Long was considered beatable because of puzzling public statements that have angered some of his constituents and his unyielding stance against the dumping of dredging spoils on two islands, a pose that has blocked deepening of the Baltimore harbor for a decade. That stance has brought down the wrath of both the political and corporate establishments.

The next factor in targeting races is the committees' view of the sophistication of the challenger's campaign.

"You've got to show winnability," one politican observed.

But in the final analysis, as Buckmaster put it, "as much as you try to make it a science, it's gut reaction. It just comes down to political horse sense."

This year's scientific study and horse sense have combined to give the RNC 118 targeted races, according to Ray. "We started off in January with 70 to 75, but the country has gone wild. It should be a good year for us."