When Chuck Bailey, deputy director of the Republican National Committee, predicted yesterday that the GOP would win control of the House of Representatives next year, he was taken aback by the skepticism that registered in the room.
His audience was the RNC executive committee, whose members concluded a two-day meeting here more cautious than optimistic about the prospects for gains in Congress in 1982.
"They'd better be optimistic, they're the sales managers," committee member Robert Eckels said of the staff's upbeat presentations.
"I'd say if the Democrats really got organized, we could have a problem next year," he continued. "Fortunately, they're in disarray now and I suspect they'll stay that way."
Along with nearly everyone else at the meeting, Eckels believes the GOP's prospects in 1982 hinge on the economy.
In view of the recession, political rhetoric has shifted since the beginning of the year.
There is less talk now about President Reagan's "economic revolution" and more about the intractable nature of the problems he has confronted.
Said Martha Bell Schoeninger, state chairman of Pennsylvania: "I've been telling people in speeches that they have to get away from a television mentality, where every problem gets solved in 60 minutes."
Hattie Bickmore, state chairman of Maine, said: "People have got to be educated that what took 40 years to build up can't be solved overnight."
Betty Heitman, cochairman of the RNC, echoed that sentiment, saying, "The errors of decades can't be overcome in a few months."
Historical trends are running against the GOP for next year. The party would need a swing of 25 seats to take control of the House for the first time since 1954.
But no party in control of the White House has registered a net gain of any kind in a mid-term congressional election since the Democrats did it in 1934.
Still, not everyone finds those precedents daunting.
"People forget that by 1934, FDR hadn't turned the economy around," noted Ernest Angelo Jr. of Texas. "What he had done was to give people a reason to hope, and that's what we're getting from this president."
At their final luncheon of the meeting, presidential counselor Edwin Meese III urged the party faithful to spread the gospel of hope by organizing local "truth squads" to flood talk shows and conduct letter-to-the-editor campaigns around the country.