Democratic Party leaders, optimistic about midterm election prospects, yesterday searched for issues they can use to score points off President Bush and the Republicans.

The main concern at a weekend meeting of state party chairmen and Democratic National Committee members was that national unity behind Bush's Persian Gulf policy and the prospect of bipartisan support for Bush's first Supreme Court nominee, David H. Souter, and a budget deal could blur the differences between the parties and depress the vote in November.

Party Chairman Ronald H. Brown, firmly in control of the meeting, easily quashed an effort to put the Democrats on record against any tax increases, then told the troops they could rally the electorate with the traditional message that the GOP is out to gouge the little guy.

"It isn't fair and it isn't smart to send the bill for the botched economics of the Eighties to the most vulnerable and the elderly," Brown said in a speech that consumed about 20 minutes of the perfunctory one-hour DNC meeting at the Washington Hilton.

"George Bush's idea of fairness is giving the richest 500,000 people in America more than $15,000 in new tax breaks, while increasing taxes on every family that brings home less than $50,000 a year."

Brown's comments were based on leaked reports on administration proposals at the budget summit at Andrews Air Force Base, and were part of a populist pitch that also includes an effort to blame the savings and loan scandal on a "do-nothing Republican philosophy, hear-nothing Republican regulation and see-nothing Republican justice."

But he arranged to have a resolution from Virginia Democratic Chairman Paul Goldman, opposing any tax increases, tabled in committee Friday with minimal debate. Goldman asked rhetorically "how you {Democrats} are going to campaign against somebody in 1992 if you agree on this" -- a budget package including tax hikes. "He {Bush} will throw it right back in our face."

But 1992 appeared rather remote, as the DNC approved the formal call for the nominating convention in New York. The delegate apportionment included 80 unpledged delegates, apportioned among the states.

That allocation, along with the earlier decision to restore automatic delegate status for all members of the DNC, substantially reverses the concessions Jesse L. Jackson extracted before the 1988 convention in limiting the number of unpledged delegates.

But it went through the executive committee Friday with only a murmur of protest from Jackson supporters and was not debated yesterday.

At a news conference, Brown declined several opportunities to make a partisan issue of the Souter nomination, saying, "Good Democrats and good Republicans in the Senate will make their own judgment."

Some of the chairmen said that the Persian Gulf crisis has blurred the domestic issues that had seemed to be working for Democratic candidates, while signs of an anti-politician mood posed a threat to Democratic congressional incumbents.

But Brown, while putting the party fully in support of Bush's Persian Gulf policy, said Democrats can do fine by campaigning on the S&L issue, abortion rights and against the Bush veto of the maternal leave bill.

As for any threat to incumbents, he told reporters, "Voters may have negative feelings about institutions, but they generally like their representatives." He said he was so confident of reelecting all Democratic senators and making gains in gubernatorial elections, "I wish the election was right now."