BRENTWOOD, N.H., FEB. 14 -- If George Bush were his boss, Doug Cowie figures he'd be "even-handed." Ruth Brown says he'd be "fair," and her husband, Warren, says he'd be "loyal." Albert Belanger assumes he would be "considerate, kind and interested."

As a prospective boss, Bob Dole didn't come off nearly as well among a group of 13 Republicans invited by The Washington Post to give their assessments -- before and after watching tonight's televised GOP debate -- on the candidates seeking their party's nomination.

"I wouldn't trust him," said Warren Brown, 71, a retired government employee. "I wouldn't turn my back on him."

"He reminds me strongly of someone I once worked with who started every meeting by saying, 'All I want to do is look good,' " said Cowie, a consultant for Chrysler Corp.

"I think Dole would be a stricter boss," said his lone defender, Bill Vahey, police chief of this prosperous bedroom community of 2,383 a half-hour from Manchester and 50 minutes from Boston.

No group so small is representative of anything other than itself. But in these pungent reactions to the GOP's two front-runners, there is at least a hint that the electorate's character assessments of Vice President Bush and Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) are not as lopsided as the results in Iowa last week, or the slippage in Bush's poll numbers here in New Hampshire, suggest. Eight years ago, many of these same people found Bush unimpressive in a debate in Manchester that political experts had rated a draw.

To be sure, much of Bush's support here was offered tentatively. Almost all of his voters -- he started the evening with four in this group and ended with five -- felt the need to defend him against the "wimp" label that works its way into almost all conversations about the vice president.

"He says 'darn' and 'heck' and 'dippity-doo' and things like that, and I get the impression that you {in the press} would like it better if he said four-letter words," said Ruth Brown. "Maybe he doesn't come across as strong, but you can't call him a wimp. He was a bomber pilot."

"The guy didn't get where he is being nobody," said Cowie. "If he was a wimp, he'd probably still be out in Maine somewhere, being a selectman."

Dole got little respect from this group for his background as a congressional leader. Almost all are staunch supporters of President Reagan, and they see Congress as part of the problem, not part of the solution, especially when it comes to federal budget deficits. "It's not the president that appropriates the money, it's the Congress," said Ike Cross, a purchasing agent.

"He's a deal-maker," banker Jonathan Ellis said of Dole. "I get the impression he would spend money."

The group's reactions to Dole's debate performance were a study in contrasts. They laughed at his every quip and zinger -- about a half-dozen of them during the hour-long debate.

Afterward, though, they had nothing but scorn for his tart tongue. "There's a sharpness there that cuts," said William Fennelly, a store owner.

"He could very easily trip over his own sharp tongue and make a real mistake," Cowie said. "The leader of the country should think before he shoots, and he shouldn't shoot from the hip."

Perhaps the most revealing moment in the long discourse on the two came when group members were asked whom they would prefer to host for a weekend. Dole, who ran in Iowa as "one of us" and has been contrasting his common roots against Bush's privileged upbringing, was not the preferred guest.

Vahey, the Dole supporter, said he would have to ask his wife "to put out the good silver" if Dole came over. "I think I'd be more comfortable with Bush. He's more of a jovial type."

"Although we're not in the same social level," said Fennelly of Bush, "we could still have a comfortable relationship." As for Dole, he said, "I have a deep mistrust of him. Don't ask me why. I can't quite put my finger on it. He makes me nervous. He has an edge that just grates."

Fennelly's wife, Leona, thought Dole's attacks on Bush's wealth have been out of bounds. "I've had friends all my life that had money. The people born with it have grace. They have chic, class."

No one in the group said tonight that Bush or Dole gave them a clear sense of where he wanted to lead the country, but no one seemed to mind. Eight years ago, when some of these same Brentwood residents participated in a similar Washington Post discussion, they expressed frustration with the direction of the country. Tonight they were just looking for someone to carry on Reagan's policies. "Stay the course, as they used to say," said Belanger, to nods around the room.

Of the other candidates, Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) got the most sympathetic hearing. "I like the Kemp-Roth bill very much," said Cross. "He brought the country back by reducing people's taxes." Belanger was moved to put his Kemp button on after the debate was over. "He came across as very strong and articulate."

Pat Robertson generated a good deal of skepticism about his electability, but his call for moral renewal was well-received. "He's got some good ideas," said Don Tash, a construction worker, "but he can't win because people think he's too religious."

Former Delaware governor Pierre S. (Pete) du Pont IV also got some good notices, but no one here thought success will happen for him this time. "In another four years, he'll be a force to be reckoned with," said Ellis.