Meet Claudine Schneider of Rhode Island: environmental activist, fiscal, conservative, feminist. Eight years ago, the week she got married, Schneider discovered she had cancer. It took her five years of operations to lick it, and, in the meantime, she headed the first successful campaign in the nation to stop construction of a proposed nuclear power plant. Last month, at 33, a Republican in a Democratic blue-collar district, a newcomer to elective office, she won a seat in Congress.

Meet Gene Chappie, 60, the wily California farmer who trounced Harold T. (Bizz) Johnson, one of the most powerful Democrats in the House. A state legislator for 16 years, Chappie bought a computer to handle his elaborate direct mail operation that sends different letters to dentists, housewives, Japanese-Americans, blue-collar workers, chiropractors, college students and even 6,000 Sikhns. "I guarded Ronnie Reagan's butt when he was governor and I was state assemblyman," Chappie says. "And I'll guard his presidential butt when I'm in Congress."

Meet John LeBoutellier, 27, youngest member of the new Congress. He went to Harvard University Business School and wrote a book called "Harvard Hates America" about, as he puts it, "limousine liberals who say they want to redistribute the wealth, but drive Mercedes into town." Even bullish Republicans gave him little chance when he took on Rep. Lester L. Wolff (D-N.Y.), but "this kid," as Wolff called him, knocked off the veteran Long Island congressman with some tough TV ads on Wolff's foreign junkets.

A new generation of Republicans has come to town. It's a plucky group, well-scrubbed, idealistic, strongly conservative and untainted by the ghost of Watergate. The 52 new GOP representatives are the largest class of Republican freshmen in 14 years -- not large enough to take control of the Democratic House, but strong enough to change its fundamental political complexion.

Like the post-Watergate Democratic freshmen of 1974, who ousted committee chairmen and changed the rules of the House to suit them, these new Republicans have a self-righteous swagger, a thirst for change, a confidence they can make a difference.

But they are less interested in challenging their leaders than in helping them turn the engines of government sharply toward the right. They have promised the voters an economic renaissance built on the ashes of the liberal establishment. If they don't deliver, they know they could be out in two years.

"I'm looked upon as a leader and I intend to lead," says Schneider, one of four women elected to the House this year, all Republicans.

Clint Roberts, a rugged South Dakota rancher who was once the "Marlboro Man" in national advertisements, says that when the new Congress opens, "I assure you they're going to know that I'm there.

Denny Smith of Oregon, a onetime fighter pilot who downed Ways and Means Committee Chairman Al Ullman, says he views his new job "like a combat tour. I had one of those in Vietnam. I consider this to be similar."

Like most of the fellow GOP freshmen, Claudine Cmarada Schneider, had never been elected to public office. Like them, she stressed the economy as her No. 1 issue and campaigned 14 hours, seven days a week. But unlike the majority of her new colleagues, Schneider is a member of that endangered species, the moderate Republican.

Not that she would admit to it, exactly. "I'm extremely conservative on fiscal issues -- balanced budget, inflation," she said. "I come from a district of working-class men and women who are finding it difficult to cope with the cost of educating their children, of buying gasoline. We've got to stop the government from spending more money. I don't look to the government to solve our problems."

Nonethless, before she ran for Congress, Schmeider, a tall, spirited woman, was a professional environmentalist: executive director of Concern Inc. and the Conservation Law Foundation, according of Rhode Island's coastal zone management program, leader of Concerned Citzens of Rhode Island, which battled the proposed Charlestown-nuclear plant, first in the nation to be stopped by citizen action.

Her husband, Eric, is an oceanographer with an Environmental Protection Agency laboratory.

Party because of her brush with Hodgkins disease, a form of cancer, she wants criminal penalties for people who illegally dispose of toxic chemical wastes. She stresses conservation, solar and other alternative energy sources. "I don't share the Reagan philosphy of produce, produce," she said. She favors federal funding of abortions for poor people.

"My primary responsibility is to my constituents," she said. "They are fiscally conservative but they are needy, because they depend on certain social programs. We can help them, but we can do it in a cost-efficient fashion." Schneider, who beat incombent Edward P. Beard, is the first Republican to win her district since 1938, and she did it while Rhode Island voted for President Carter and a Democratic governor.

Gene Chappie, born Eugenio Alberto Al berto Chiappa a month after his parents immigrated from Italy, beat the 72-year-old chairman of the House Public Works Committee, a Washington institution in himself. "I was shouting from the rooftops that Bizz was a big spender Democrat," Chappie said. "The pork barrel has run dry -- nothing but sows' ears left. You couldn't pick up the paper without reading that the Honorable Bizz Johnson has authorized two jillion dollars to study the sex life of the devil-headed earthworm. A lot of it was a damn boondoggle."

But lest anyone point out that dam-fighting environmentalists have been saying as much for years, Chappie quickly disassociates himself from "amalgamated posie pluckers" and boasts that he once gathered up a Sierra Club director by the necktie and "told that wimp if he ever set foot in my office I'd break his bones." One of his first acts in Washington last week was to request a list of proposed federal wilderness areas in his northern California district, so he can begin fighting them.

Wiry, gray haired, slight of build, Chappie prides himself on his irreverence. He sniffs at "the moaning and groaning and gnashing of teeth" of other freshmen over committee assigments. "I want Agriculture and Interior. oIf that doesn't happen, I'll take janitorial supplies and sanitary napkins," he quips.

Having represented a 35,000-square-mile assembly district -- a quarter of California's real estate -- Chappie ran a sophisticated campaign that had not only computers, but five airplanes, and a budget of $450,000 compared to Johnson's $150,000.

Although he campaigned on conservative bread-and-butter issues -- jobs, inflation, balanced budget -- Chappie says "I didn't promise my folks I'd turn the world around. The guy who comes to drain the swamp, he turns around and finds he's up to his a -- in alligators."

John LeBoutellier, the youngest of three 27-year-old freshmen, says he's an "angry young man." When he came to town week, he was all set to gather up arms and unite with conservative Democrats to oust Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. And he let it be known he'd like a seat on the Appropriations Committee, a body that ordinarily accepts no freshmen. "You don't wait you way to the top," he said. "I got elected to do something. Why should I wait six years to get on a good committee?"

Tall, slender and distinctly upper-crust in his pin-striped suit, LeBoutelier says, "I'm not the get-along, go-along type." He made his opponent the issue with television ads showing scenes of foreign capitals where, he said, Wolff had taken useless trips and done private business deals on the side. "The only junkets I'd take would be on the shuttle from New York to Washington," LeBoutellier promised.

With fund-raising help from former treasury secretary William Simon, LeBoutellier spent $430,000 on his campaign, twice as much as Wolff, who didn't realize until the end that he was in trouble. "i was like a breath of fresh air," said LeBoutellier, who describes himself as a "hawk on defense and conservative on most things."

"Most of us got elected for the same reasons. The public wants government to work better. We have terrible inflation and unemployment. But Congress is slow and fat. It takes months to get anything done. The public is short on patience."

LeBoutellier says Congress shouldn't exempt itself from Social Security, equal employment and occupational safety laws. And, he adds, "It's very hard to have credibility if you're living the life of luxury in Congress. If perks allow you to do a job better, okay. But cheaper haircuts, cheaper meals and free picture framing should be removed."

If there was a generation inspired to public service by John F. Kennedy, so, too, there is a Goldwater generation. Vin Weber of Minnesota is a charter member. "I was 12 years old and my father was for [George] Romney," he remembers. "But I was a Goldwater fanatic. I'd read all his books. I had bumper stickers on my bicycle."

Weber, a quiet, thoughtful former Capitol Hill aide, views 1964 "as the start of the process of realignment away from the New Deal. Goldwater realigned the Republican Party. A lot of us trace our roots to that. And 1980 was a realignment election. That's why there's a certain idealism about this group."

Weber is not flamboyant, like Chappie or LeBoutellier, nor is his life story as extraordinary as Schneider's, but in his more conventional way he shares the same commitment. "We have a very specific sense of why we were elected," he said. "To do something about the economy. Not in 10 years, but right now."

Running against a liberal populist for retiring Democrat Richard Nolan's seat, Weber outspent his opponent 2-to-1 and beat him although Jimmy cost of government, taxes and supply-side economics. While known as an antiabortion activist, he says the impact of Moral Majority issues has been "overstated" nationwide.

Weber says his colleagues are "a little less rebellious than the '74 Democrats. Our bottom line is accomplishment. We don't want to have an internal revolution that would impair the effectiveness of the Republican caucus," he said.

As for his agenda, he says he'd like some day to get farms and small businesses exempted from inheritance taxes, "but if a freshman thinks he can pass a bill, he's fooling himself. I can make my case to senior members, but the main job of a freshman is to be a team player."