It sounds like a classic case of role reversal.
The rich Republicans, after losing 26 House seats in the 1982 midterm elections, are talking about guerrilla warfare, while the Democrats, after suffering for years with a financial inferiority complex, hope to be the mouse that roared.
Next year's House races have little of the glamor of 1982, when Republicans initially talked of taking control of the House and ended up trying to prevent a Democratic landslide. But there is no less intensity at the two congressional campaign committees as they prepare for the coming elections.
The Republicans' goal, in the words of Joseph Gaylord, executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, is "to rebuild the coalition" that gave President Reagan effective control of the House during his first two years in office.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's objective is somewhat more complicated. Democrats not only want to protect the gains they made last year, but also plan to give the Republicans a dose of their own medicine.
"We're on a par in aggressiveness and tactics," said Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Calif.), DCCC chairman.
That aggressiveness extends first to the Democrats' decision to target members of the Republican leadership for defeat in 1984. Last year, House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) narrowly escaped defeat, and the Democrats have their sights on him once again.
"I think he's vulnerable," Coelho said. "He recognizes it."
Another Democrat, who asked not to be identified, added, "I'm not sure Michel learned his lesson."
Coelho said Rep. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), the minority whip, is another likely target, and said several other prominent Republicans are likely to find themselves targeted by the Democrats as the elections near.
"Over the years, the Republicans have targeted our leadership and been successful," Coelho said. "We lost two whips, a campaign committee chairman and several committee chairmen. I think it's time to say, 'Enough is enough.' "
The Democrats also have decided to make the South a major battleground next year, based on the expectation that increased voter registration among blacks in southern states could be enough to defeat several Republican incumbents.
"We're going to hit hard in the mid-South and the South," Coelho said. "There's a gold mine there. The Republicans have hurt the poor and hurt blacks and haven't had to atone for that."
Democrats made gains in the South last year, especially in North Carolina, and they hope to expand those successes to Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and elsewhere.
The other priority for the Democratic campaign committee is to protect the freshman class of 1982. Many of the Republicans defeated last fall are planning to run again in 1984--Gaylord estimated there may be as many as 36 rematches next year--and the Democrats have been advising their freshman members to get ready early.
"I feel strongly that the freshmen are a good solid class," Coelho said. But Democrats privately recognize that a number of their new members are vulnerable to defeat, including some who may face tough primary challenges.
Coelho predicts that the Democrats will add five to eight seats to their current 267. Party professionals say the gains will be more difficult next year than in 1982, in part because there are fewer attractive targets.
One reason is that there are fewer marginal districts at which to aim; another is that there are likely to be fewer districts without an incumbent running for reelection. These open seats historically have provided the parties with their best opportunities to make gains.
Meanwhile, the Republicans already have given the Democrats an indication of their 1984 strategy through a series of press releases attacking incumbent Democrats for specific votes on the House floor.
Most notable is one sent last month into 20 Democratic districts accusing the incumbents of supporting communism after they voted against an amendment to the International Monetary Fund authorization bill. The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), would prohibit the United States from supporting IMF loans to communist dictatorships.
The NRCC's press releases drew an angry response from the Democrats, and could jeopardize passage of the IMF bill, a priority of the White House. But there is no indication that the furor has deterred Republicans from their strategy for the coming year.
"We have gone back to the guerrilla warfare that worked well in 1978 and 1980," said the NRCC's Gaylord.
"We used the House in 1981 to pass the president's program. We can't do that now. Now we will use the House Republicans as an opposition to help challengers running against incumbent Democrats."
Gaylord said his committee is looking closely at about 90 Democratic incumbents, including 25 to 30 freshman Democrats, and said his party already has challengers in about 70 of those races.
The party's strategy is to run "against the incumbents, against the establishment and against the institution," he said.
"Increasingly, races for the House tend to be very personalized races," Gaylord added. "People look at their congressman . . . as their defender against the government. Before they trade one in for another" they need a reason.
"What we're trying to do is add a flavor to the House campaigns that will help provide reasons why a Democratic incumbent ought not to be there," he said. Gaylord admitted that Republican candidates have been less anxious to run this year than they were two years ago at the height of Reagan's popularity.
"They're a litle more cautious," he said. But he reported progress in recent weeks and said he believes that Reagan's expected reelection bid will bring out more candidates for House races.
Democrats are not as far along in recruiting candidates, but Martin Franks, executive director of the Democratic campaign committee, is nonetheless confident that the quality, if not the quantity, of Democratic challengers will be high.
"I can't point to the 90 candidates we've recruited, but I can point to some who will give our friends across the way a moderate case of heartburn," he said.
Until now, the Democrats have concentrated on turning a once-weak committee into a force as energetic, if not as wealthy, as its Republican counterpart.
Franks said fund-raising, though still minuscule compared with that of the NRCC, has improved.
In the first six months of the year, the DCCC raised about $2 million, to the Republicans' $11 million. But the Democratic committee soon will achieve parity with the Republicans in at least one important technological area of modern politics.
They are completing work on what Franks described as a "state-of-the-art" television studio in a Capitol Hill town house that will allow the Democrats to produce ads for the party and for candidates in the way Republicans have done for years. "We're doing the best damn job of copying that we can," Franks said.
In contrast, the Republicans are preaching organization.
"When we talk about all the gee-whiz things we can do in a campaign, the emphasis gets distracted away from the people end of politics," Gaylord said.
At the same time, Gaylord said he hopes his committee can help restore the emotional edge the Republicans enjoyed in 1980 but lost in 1982. Public opinion surveys taken after last year's midterm elections showed that a sizable fraction of the people who said they would vote Republican in September, 1982, failed to show up on election day.
One unknown is redistricting, supposedly completed before the 1982 elections.
Both committees are heavily involved in the California fight over the Sebastiani initiative, a redistricting plan drawn by Assemblyman Don Sebastiani which, if approved by voters in December, could cost the Democrats five to 10 House seats and control of the legislature. The ballot initiative is before the California Supreme Court.
In addition, a U.S. Supreme Court decision will force New Jersey to redraw its lines.
But while new district lines may affect individual races, the tone of the overall fight for the House appears to have been set.
"The Republicans always have more money and technology," Coelho said. "We've always been on the defensive. We need to turn around and put them on the defensive. That's the key."