ATLANTA, AUG. 10 -- Two prominent Republicans -- House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and conservative leader Paul Weyrich -- sharply criticized their own party today, complaining that the GOP is obsessed with the presidency to the detriment of winning lower offices and that Republican leaders are too willing to compromise with Democrats.

Gingrich and Weyrich, whose remarks were well received by an audience of Republican state legislators, county commissioners and city council members gathered here for a meeting of the Southern Republican Exchange, gingerly avoided any direct criticism of either the Bush administration or the Republican National Committee.

But in what had all the earmarks of criticism of President Bush's general strategy of seeking accommodation with Democratic congressional leaders, Gingrich said Republicans are "not polarizing the election in our terms. . . . We are in danger of losing the fall elections." The fundamental strategy of the GOP, he contended, "should be to turn {voter} despair into outrage," and then focus that outrage on the Democratic Party.

The minority whip argued that the "Republican Party does not run enough candidates at the local level" with the result that it "loses elections the day recruitment ends," well before election day.

Weyrich, head of the Free Congress Foundation, contended Republicans place disproportionate emphasis on presidential elections so that every event is analyzed in terms of "what is this going to do to George Bush {in 1992} . . . as if the 1990 election is not relevant."

Weyrich and Gingrich later sidestepped questions about whether their remarks were aimed at the Bush administration or the RNC.

"I'm talking about the general Republican establishment," Weyrich said. Gingrich said Bush could not be expected to attempt a pre-election polarization of the electorate "in the middle of this kind of foreign policy crisis," referring to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

Charles Black, spokesman for the RNC, indicated in a telephone interview that he did not take the Gingrich-Weyrich comments as criticism of the RNC. He contended that the RNC is putting more money this year into legislative and gubernatorial races than it ever has before in preparation for the reapportionment of congressional and legislative districts following the 1990 census.

"They {Gingrich and Weyrich} have extremely high aspirations for the Republican Party," Black said.

Missouri Governor John Ashcroft (R) defended the Bush administration and praised the president for raising large sums of money across the country for GOP gubernatorial candidates. But a number of local officials attending the meeting here were very receptive to the message from Gingrich and Weyrich.

Louisiana state Rep. Charles Lancaster (R) complained that the RNC and other national party organizations will put as much as $400,000 into the Senate camaign of Ben Bagert, "which is more than has been put in all legislative races in the entire history of Louisiana. . . . They {the national GOP} don't fund local races."

R. T. (Tom) Phillips, minority leader of the Georgia Senate, was particularly critical of the Bush administration's decision to consider increases, arguing that polarization on the tax issue is critical to the GOP. "We have to realize that our voters out there have said 'no more' to taxes," he said.