He may not have been a lot to look at, but the man in the terry cloth sweatshirt with the red, white and blue star-studded elephant embroidered over his heart knew he had the audience swooning when he began to tick off the road signs to Annapolis.

Between flicks of his cigarette, political consultant March Miller mapped out a path to success for 23 GOP hopefuls -- 18 men and five women who had paid $25 for the 10 hours of advice on how to be a Republican in Maryland and still win. Among the more unusual strategems:

* Ways to handle a spouse.

* How to interdict enemy supply lines.

* How to turn down an invitation to a sewing bee.

Now, you're very well aware that you're not going to accept Mrs. Gundlefinger's invitation to address the Buzzy Bee sewing bee. You'd be better off standing on a street corner. But you can't tell her that," Miller warned potential candidates at one of a series of seminars party leaders are hosting around the state.

"So you say,'Gee, I'd really like to go, but my staff doesn't trust me to do any of my own scheduling.' You then ask her to call your scheduler. . . .

"Your scheduler then waits two days before calling Mrs. Gundlefinger back. She tells her, 'Gee, we've done everything we can do, but he (the candidate) just can't make it. He really wanted to come. Will you keep us in mind for a later time and give us another chance?"

"She's not mad at the candidate -- if anyone, she might get angry with the scheduler -- and the candidate doesn't have to go. That's the important thing."

The 23 were told a lot of other important things last weekend by state and national GOP political strategists who want to break the link in this state between being a Republican and losing. Republicans have won only four state offices, other than legislative seats, during the past two decades.

In the General Assembly, 15 out of 141 delegates are Republican and seven out of 47 senators wear the GOP stamp. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans three to one.

For their seminar fee, the politicians were entrusted with this year's party campaign bible that advised, among the many things in its 115 pages, that "truth is what the people believe;" cautioned not to wear pin stripes to a picnic; and instructed how to get the bigwigs to drop the checks in the fishbowl at a fundraiser -- plant a pigeon with $500 to make the first flip with a lot of bravado.

They were also told by a ranking national GOP official that it was okay to tell the Reagan people to take a walk if it meant nabbing the winning votes.

"The Republican National Committee is not going to be mad at you. Ronald Reagan is not going to be mad at you," Richard Adams, a regional political director with the national party, intoned as the all-white mix of middle-aged and youthful suits scribbled furiously at narrow tables. Adams recently wound up the losing J. Marshall Coleman gubernatorial bid in Virginia.

"The Reagan people are big people. If the Reagan flag needs to be buried in Montgomery County, then bury it. . . .

"Take the positions which suit your district."

Those positions, Adams said, should be only the ones that your constituency thinks are important. Don't waste time, he cautioned, trying to educate the voter.

"In the minds of the average persons, a political campaign runs only for the last 30 to 60 days. Most political campaigns are not educational committees; don't try to make them be."

"Look to Images -- Not Issues," reads page two of the opposition research section in the campaign manual.

"Gather your rsearch, look for patterns that create images and reveal that image to the voters. This process is not 'dirty tricks," the manual reads. "It's your right and obligation as a participant in the political system."

Another way to enhance the image and get a little attention, Miller told the group, is to engage in a little media sleight of hand.

"Rent some old TV equipment and go out to a shopping mall. . . . Get some guy to follow you around with the lights on. . . .There's no film in the camera, but just watch how many people will want to shake your hand."

And no image is complete without a little bit of haberdashery magic, Miller said.

"Never be phony to appease the people, but for God's sake, if you go to a picnic, don't wear a suit. . . and don't dress down when you go out to meet the folks either. That means no frayed collars and no dirty nails. . . .

"Flatter them, flatter them."