President Reagan traveled by helicopter to this two-fisted city today in search of support for his New Federalism program and a more presidential image to hoist him above the troubles of the economy and bleak GOP prospects in the fall elections.

Reagan, seeming to enjoy the lifting of a usually heavy veil of security, toured this city with colorful Mayor William Donald Schaefer, visited a job-training center and viewed the city's revitalized Inner Harbor project through a coin-operated telescope on the top floor of the city's World Trade Center.

The theme of a speech Reagan gave to the National Association of Counties convention here was that "federal intrusiveness" in local affairs had created more problems than it had solved. But on his tour he learned that Baltimore's revitalization was accomplished with a heavy injection of federal grants--some from programs his administration has attempted to eliminate or cut back.

While Reagan lambasted a "fat" and "swollen" federal government, he generally avoided the hard-line denouncements of Democrats as big spenders and the defensive reaction to their charge that he is uncaring about the poor that have characterized his speeches of late.

And, he did not make his usual predictions about a quick recovery of the economy, talking instead about the "individual pluck and mettle" that Americans have drawn on to carry them through adversity.

As a parable for the nation, he told the "story of courage" of J. R. Richard, the Houston Astros' pitcher who was partially paralyzed after a stroke two years ago. Reagan said Richard had demonstrated "the kind of American spirit that we all must tap to continue our struggle for national renewal" when he pitched a few innings for a Houston rookie-league farm team recently.

Aides are increasingly concerned that Reagan's political prestige will be chewed up in the fall elections. They are groping for ways to put distance between him and the fray and are emphasizing his long-range initiatives to renew the nation.

In plugging his New Federalism proposal for shifting control of federal programs to state and local governments--"an epic struggle to restore the governmental balance," he called it--Reagan quoted from Jefferson, Madison and Baltimore's favorite literary son, H. L. Mencken.

The conservative president also borrowed, without noting the source, from a 1968 comment of revolutionary Eldridge Cleaver, saying, "Federal intrusiveness has become part of the problem, not the solution."

But if the emphasis and message were somewhat altered, the basic Reagan style was not. After Schaefer found a quarter and coaxed Reagan to look at the city through the coin-operated telescope, a reporter asked what he saw.

"The Russians are coming," Reagan quipped.

Clearly fond of the prickly Schaefer and impressed by the Democrat's skill and dedication, Reagan told a luncheon audience at the World Trade Center, "I just propositioned the mayor here and asked him if I could have him for two years' detached service in the South Bronx.

"We want to save the federal programs that have worked," he said. "But much of what the federal government has tried in good conscience to accomplish has not worked."

When Reagan left a bindery that is used as a youth training facility, he boasted about how Washington had had no role in it and how it was an example of what he hopes to accomplish with his tax abatement proposal for urban Enterprise Zones.

Reporters then pointed to the sign showing that some of the funds to get the project going had come from the federal government--from the Economic Development Administration of the Commerce Department, which the Reagan administration has tried hard to abolish.

Reagan acknowledged later, in his speech to the county officials, that the Inner Harbor project had been heavily subsidized by the federal government, but he said that in the future, 95 percent of the funds would come from private enterprise.

"We're urging the private sector to get more actively involved in job training and urban development," Reagan said, and then paraphrased Calvin Coolidge, whom he has praised since taking office: "The business of business is America."

But Reagan's zeal to curb federal social spending and his hope that business can pick up the costs have caused governors, mayors, and county executives, whose power he seeks to enhance, to greet the New Federalism proposals skeptically.

Before his speech today, the county officials meeting here rejected an effort by their leadership to endorse the proposal.

The White House was stung when Sen. David F. Durenberger (R-Minn.), whose subcommittee will probably handle major portions of the bill, criticized it as "baloney."

Under Reagan's plan, state and local governments could continue under their direct control about 30 education, health, community development and transportation programs or use the money other purposes.

At the same time, the federal government would assume full costs and responsibility for Medicaid and continue to run the food-stamps program. The states would assume full responsibility for Aid to Families with Dependent Children, whose costs the states and the federal government now share.