NAPERVILLE, ILL. -- "George Bush is a terrific team man," office manager Ann Haney tells her fellow Republican activists. "He's always there . . . for our candidates. But he has all the crowd appeal of a warm dish of oatmeal -- I mean, without the raisins, without sugar, without maple syrup. Just oatmeal."

It sounds like a real put down, but, in fact, Haney is leaning toward supporting Bush in the March 15 Illinois Republican primary.

Adherents of Sen. Robert J. Dole (Kan.) and the other four contenders for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination offered similarly unromantic views of their favorites, as 30 precinct captains and volunteer workers for the vaunted DuPage County Republican organization gathered here on two recent evenings to talk politics with The Washington Post. These loyal Republicans make it clear that none of the six contestants in the GOP presidential field remotely matches the appeal Ronald Reagan has held for them.

Their preferences are statistically close to the latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll, which shows Bush leading the race among Republican-inclined voters with 46 percent and Dole in second place with 32 percent. The others trail far back: Rep. Jack Kemp (N.Y.) and Marion G. (Pat) Robertson, each at 6 percent, former secretary of state Alexander M. Haig Jr. at 3 percent, and former Delaware governor Pierre S. (Pete) du Pont IV at 1 percent.

But the comments at the two round tables, and responses in the national poll, reflect ambivalence about the strengths and weaknesses of the Republican field. Strong enthusiasm for any of the GOP candidates is rare.

Still, Republicans here and nationally remain confident about winning the 1988 election for a simple reason: They think that the Democrats are facing a far worse drought of talent.

"The Democrats have no real candidates and no big issues," said retired manufacturing executive Ralph Johnson, a Du Pont supporter. "I don't see how we can lose."

That confidence is widely shared. In The Post-ABC News Poll, 74 percent of the Republicans, and 59 percent of the Democrats, said they thought their own party will win the 1988 election.

The in-depth conversations here, in one of the bellwether Republican counties in the nation (76 percent for President Reagan in 1984), and the responses to The Post-ABC News Poll provide insights into the GOP presidential race, which will begin to take form in the next few weeks as Robertson, Bush and Dole make their formal declarations of candidacy and join Du Pont, Haig and Kemp for the first debates.

Currently, the focus is almost all on Bush and Dole -- one or the other is named as the first choice of almost eight of 10 Republicans in the September poll, up from just over six of 10 in June. One or both of the front-runners would have to stumble badly for any of the other four to have a chance.

Republican activists here also list Bush and Dole as their top preferences. Overwhelmingly, they rate the two as being the most qualified and most electable. No one else even comes close in these two critical political categories.

It is similar in the national poll. Bush is rated qualified by 92 percent of the Republican-inclined voters; Dole by 82 percent. Kemp and Haig are in the low 40s, Robertson at 22 and Du Pont at 18.

The scores for the four also-rans are lowered by the high numbers of those polled who say they don't know enough to judge. But Robertson has 47 percent saying he is not qualified, more than double the number who find him qualified.

Robertson also has the dubious distinction of being named by 28 percent of the Republicans as someone they definitely would not consider voting for. Haig is at 16 percent in that measure. All the others are in single digits.

What Republicans are looking for in the next president came over clearly during two nights of discussion. They want experience and proven competence in government. And this time they are not looking for a political outsider.

"We need someone like {former president} Jerry Ford, who knows how government works," said Paul M. Bauer, a real estate appraiser. "I'm torn between George Bush and Bob Dole. Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan lacked that, and the Democrats have no one with that in the arena . . . . Experience is the main quality."

That theme of experience and competence in making government work stands in sharp contrast to the anti-Washington, anti-government voter attitudes formed over the last decade. More than any other factor, it accounts for the preference for Bush and Dole.

"We need someone who can get along with the House and Senate," one of the GOP regulars remarked. The comment triggered a spontaneous response from the group of men and women who serve their party in local political positions while pursuing careers ranging from prosecuting attorneys and corporate executives to insurance brokers and schoolteachers. There are nods and murmurs of agreement around the table, prompting a number of quick comments:

"Yes, go in there like Reagan did in the early years, go in and get his program enacted . . . . "

"With the Senate and House in Democratic hands, we need a president who can outthink and outdeal the other side . . . . "

These, obviously, are qualities that most seem to fit Bush and Dole, the two candidates with the most extensive national governmental resumes. Republicans here and nationally cite their credentials -- congressman, U.N. ambassador, CIA director, vice president for Bush; GOP vice presidential nominee, longtime Senate leader for Dole -- as providing the sort of background that will better enable the next president to grapple effectively with the problems in Washington.

Also working to the advantage of Bush and Dole is the perception that they are moderate, mainstream politicians capable of attracting the diverse kinds of voters whose support the minority Republican Party must have to retain control of the White House in the post-Reagan era.

"We need a communicator and someone who will work with young people, especially on the problems of education and literacy," remarked Joan Salvato, a volunteer GOP worker who supports Bush. "We need a more moderate president; that's where it's swinging," said Tim Sellers, who leans toward Dole. "As a young person, it seems to me that we've gone from one extreme to another with Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan."

For all their positives, Bush and Dole carry substantial negatives into the presidential campaign. The greatest is the lack of excitement they convey, and their perceived lack of ability to stir audiences.

For Bush, the string of negatives includes: "dull, bland, boring, not dynamic, wishy-washy, follower, can't be his own man, Reagan's shadow, preppy image." For Dole, the greatest problem seems to be the lingering impressions of "that hatchet man image," as one Republican here put it, stemming from his slashing, on-the-attack tactics in the 1976 presidential campaign. Unfavorable comments about his tendency "to give too many gag lines" also are offered. Other negatives volunteered include: "good man but colorless, opportunist, slippery."

Of the four trailing candidates, Kemp appears to have the greatest potential, in terms of the personal comments, but he dropped from 11 percent in the June poll to 6 percent in the latest survey. His pre-politics job as a professional football quarterback is still what Republicans remember most about him. But he also draws frequent mentions as a strong, aggressive leader, particularly on the tax-cut issue, with an ability to communicate his convictions from the platform.

Some see him as the person best equipped to preserve the Reagan political philosophy and base. "He's very charismatic and hard working," said Robert Mankivsky, a third-year law student. "I think he might expand on the blue-collar workers who voted for Reagan."

"He has the message for galvanizing and expanding the party," attorney John Currey said. "I think he's a great strategist. Reagan took a lot of his cues from the Kemp agenda. But that doesn't make him necessarily the best candidate." Curry is backing Bush.

The negatives on Kemp center on fears that he is too conservative and that his experience in the House does not qualify him for the presidency. "He's been a quarterback and a member of Congress," said Lyn Kennelly, "but his experience is not that broad."

"He comes across to me as representing an economic or political philosophy that is not electable," said college professor Thomas Kay, a moderate Republican.

Du Pont's wealth overwhelms any other single impression the Republicans have of the former House member and two-term governor of Delaware, and it works against him. Here in the heartland, it is all too reminiscent of another politically ambitious scion of great family fortune. "This area has a lot of middle-class voters," said insurance broker Michael Kelly, "and I fear a guy like that who isn't middle class may tend to feel guilty to some degree and overcompensate . . . raise taxes and spend money to help people who don't have his kind of money. They have no concern over paying for it, like the Nelson Rockefellers."

That is an ironic comment on Du Pont, who speaks about having used repeated tax cuts to revive Delaware's economy and attract jobs. His unorthodox conservatism attracts some of those who have heard him, causing Vern McCarthy, a retired business consultant, to say that Du Pont "is the only one I've heard challenge some of the mythology about farm subsidies and Social Security." But even those who admire his positions often judge other candidates to be more electable than the man one round-table participant exclaimed is "preppier than Bush."

Haig carries far heavier negatives: 6 to 1 negative in the volunteered comments in the national poll. While some see him as strong, forceful and intelligent, with broad experience in international affairs, far more see him as militaristic, pompous, arrogant or power-hungry. Much of what worries people about the former NATO commander, senior White House aide and secretary of state, goes back to the "I am in control" comment on the day Reagan was shot in March 1981.

"Until the assassination attempt, he had a good record," said real estate appraiser Bauer. "But he made a real mistake, and he's doomed because of it." Also working against Haig is the fact that he has never previously sought public office and has few roots in the GOP. "He's running strictly on ego," said attorney Curry. "He has no popular support."

Even more of an emotional cloud hovers over Robertson. Like Haig, the negative comments on the television evangelist far outnumber the positive. Some voters, obviously, admire his personal traits and describe him as honest and trustworthy. But he is seen almost entirely as a preacher, not as the business executive, lawyer, communicator, social activist he likes to portray. And in the national poll, many said they find his religiosity overwhelming or fanatic. They fear it as a threat to the separation of church and state. The message they give is: Stay in the church.

As if that were not enough, many also say his views are ultraconservative and he lacks qualifications for the presidency. Among the 30 party activists here, Robertson lacks a single supporter. Many see his efforts to organize fundamentalist Christians as a threat to the GOP they have known. David C. Doolittle, a state highway department employe, worried that "there's a very great underground swell, and I think a lot of people are going to be very surprised at the amount of strength he can come up with among the Christians. He's one candidate who really knows how to use the media."

"He's just like Jesse Jackson is to the Democratic Party," said marketing manager Steven Naples. "Very destructive." "Normal people," agreed homemaker Julie Connelly, "don't consider that {kind of religious belief} normal behavior."

"He might be right with the Lord," Ann Haney declared, "but not with our constituents."Director of polling Richard Morin, polling analyst Kenneth E. John and staff researcher Colette T. Rhoney contributed to this report.