Some moderate Montgomery County Republicans are balking at the decision to invite Donald J. Devine, the Reagan administration official in charge of reductions-in-force, as the keynote speaker for a reception tomorrow kicking off the 1982 election campaign.
One Republican, who hopes to run this year without playing up his party connection, said that he is considering boycotting the reception at the home of a party worker in Potomac because of Devine's appearance. Devine, a longtime Montgomery County party worker, is director of the Office of Personnel Management and the man responsible for implementing President Reagan's pledge to reduce the size of the federal work force.
One moderate Republican, Sen. Howard A. Denis, said he probably would miss Sunday's event. "I wouldn't call it a boycott," he said. "It's a question of simply not being able to be there. My advocacy of federal workers is well known. It's a question of whether federal workers are going to be the scapegoat."
Del. Luiz Simmons, a self-styled moderate Republican, opened his campaign for county executive last Tuesday by criticizing the president's layoff policy. He said that the RIFs have caused "anxieties" in the traditionally recession-proof county.
Simmons said yesterday he will attend the kickoff because "the president is deserving of the support and patience of the county, but the reductions-in-force have been disruptive and inefficient. We should be stressing the successful aspects of his program."
The layoff issue is not unique to Montgomery County's Republicans. It poses a problem for most Republican candidates in a metropolitan area that has a concentration of federal workers. About 2,300 federal workers in this area have lost their jobs since the start of Reagan's term.
About 12 percent of Montgomery's residents, or nearly a quarter of the county's work force, are employed by the federal government in jobs that long had been considered "safe."
"I think these federal workers could very well take it out on Republican candidates, unless they know who the candidates are," said Denis, who said he will emphasize his legislative record when running for reelection. "I think there's a danger out there. A Republican candidate always has to walk the razor's edge."
Another Republican, one of many asking for anonymity, said that, "having Devine here evidences such an abysmal lack of understanding of this community it makes me shudder. I mean, why not invite David Stockman?"
In a county with a two-to-one Democratic voter registration, many moderate Republicans would like to sweep Reagan and the party label under the rug.
"It's a booby trap for all Republicans this year," conceded one loyal party member. To some, inviting Devine seemed almost to highlight the "Reagan problem."
The sniping also illustrated the internal bickering that traditionally has characterized Montgomery County Republicans, split between doctrinaire conservatives represented by Devine, and the moderates in the tradition of Sen. Charles McC. Mathias and former congressmen Newton I. Steers and Gilbert Gude.
Devine, a former precinct worker in Montgomery County, admonished those who try to hide their GOP label.
"I'm going to appreciate going on Sunday because of that type of reaction," he said. "I'm going to talk about how the Reagan administration is going to turn the whole country around and return us to the prosperity we knew in the 1950s."
Devine added: "You can't run away from your president. You have to get through your primary first."
Democrats expressed glee over the Republican infighting, relishing the opportunity to make Reagan the issue in this fall's elections.
"Ronald Reagan will be an albatross around every Republican's neck," said Stanton J. Gildenhorn, chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Party. "We had an albatross around our necks in 1978 in the name of Jimmy Carter."
Republican Party officials attempted to downplay the dissent, emphasizing that the reception will honor precinct workers and launch a "neighbor-to-neighbor" and door-to-door fund-raising drive.
"It's not a big deal," said Paul Clark, GOP central committee chairman. "This is a rah-rah, picnic type of atmosphere."