JONESBORO, GA., NOV. 10 -- In the Republican enclaves in the home district of Rep. Newt Gingrich, the best evidence that the powerful House Republican was out of touch was his surprise at his near defeat last Tuesday.

"Last February I went up to Washington and I told Newt, 'I hope you win by one vote so that it will bring you back to Earth and bring you back to the 6th District," said Bob Craft, a Republican party activist. "He didn't hear me."

Gingrich won by 983 votes of the nearly 156,000 cast, a small enough margin to require an automatic recount. He lost six of the 12 counties in his district to his Democratic opponent, a poorly funded candidate Gingrich easily beat two years ago. {Related story on Page A20.}

Now the flamboyant Republican House whip, whose oft-stated goal was to obtain a Republican majority in the House by 1992, will have to concentrate on assuring a majority in his own district in 1992.

His razor-close reelection also may have cost him his power back in Washington, where he was already in trouble with fellow Republicans for sabotaging President Bush and many other Republicans on the budget agreement.

Gingrich's trouble at home is rooted both in blue-collar neighborhoods, where union workers are angry over his role in the Eastern Airlines strike, and in the more affluent areas where mainline party members feel Gingrich has abandoned them for the religious right wing.

Without the broad cushion of base support back home, some say, it will be more difficult for Gingrich, 47, who won the whip's job in 1989 by only two votes, to engage in the contentious political brawls that endeared him to the Republican right wing and made him a darling of the national news media.

"Politics is perception, and the perception was that he was rolling right along. This was the man, after all, who stood up to the president," said Merle Black, a political scientist at Emory University who specializes in southern politics. "Any time you don't win in a convincing fashion, the perception is that you're out of touch. Your reputation for power and influence decline."

The 6th District spreads west from the Atlanta suburbs across rural northern Georgia to the Alabama state line. The most populous areas, however, lie in the shadow of the Atlanta airport, which is also the economic cornerstone of the district. Airline industry employees were angry that Gingrich helped block federal mediation in the bitter 1989 strike at Eastern Airlines. About 6,000 Eastern employees live in his district.

Mainline Republicans, warring with right-wing, religious fundamentalists for control of the party locally, say Gingrich no longer paid attention to them. There were also voters who were just fed up with a congressman who seemed more interested in engineering sweeping national movements than taking care of mundane chores for the folks back home, analysts said. Many would have preferred to see him keep his seat as ranking Republican on the House aviation subcommittee than become whip, observers said.

"The basic feeling that most people have is that Newt is going to do what's good for Newt," Craft said.

After the election, Gingrich told his constituents he got their message.

"The voters do feel they are not getting their voices heard," he said on election night. "We were very fortunate that while they sent us a message, they gave us a chance to live out that message in the next two years."

But some said they are not sure Gingrich understands the message.

"He said he hadn't come home often enough, but that's not the problem," said Craft, a pilot for Delta Air Lines. "He came home. But every time he did, he held a fundraiser. Meanwhile, the Eastern people are suffering."

"The little man doesn't count anymore," said Patricia Hancock. "Once you get into this, 'I'm invincible, I've got the power,' you never can come back."

Hancock, who had voted for the six-term Republican in each of his past elections and attended the Georgia Republican convention as an alternate, voted for Democrat David Worley last Tuesday.

"It wasn't so much a vote for Worley as it was a vote against Newt," she explained. "Why can't Gingrich court me as well as he courts someone with the big bucks?"

Much of the "Boot Newt" campaign was orchestrated by the machinists union at Eastern.

Mike Flynn, president of the 2,500-member local, said many of his members see parallels between their congressman and their former boss and archenemy, Frank Lorenzo, who was forced out as chairman of Eastern, which is under bankruptcy protection.

"Newt made a statement in the Atlanta Constitution that the machinists cannot make a difference in his campaign," Flynn said. "Anyone who treats us with contempt pays a price. Frank Lorenzo is no longer in the airline business and Newt Gingrich is being returned to Washington with a lot less power than he had the day before the election. The clock was ticking on Frank and the same is true with Gingrich."

Gingrich's opponent, a 32-year-old lawyer who has never held elected office, mined the discontent to his favor. His advertisements attacked Gingrich as a chauffeur-driven fat cat who showered himself with luxurious perks in office. Worley said Gingrich seemed more interested last year in appearing on "Good Morning America" (nine times) than before the farmers in Haralson County (three times).

Worley also tapped the resentment over Gingrich's $35,000 congressional pay raise, which seemed to grow deeper after Worley pointed out that Gingrich voted against raising the minimum wage.

But the polls showed Gingrich, who outspent Worley, well ahead.

"I can't tell you what happened," Gingrich confessed on election night. "None of the polling information, none of the volunteer reports, none of my own campaigning led me to expect a close race."

Republicans in Georgia say Gingrich felt, in part, a rising Democratic tide that rolled across Georgia. But others argue that placing the blame for Gingrich's troubles on the Democratic sweep is a failure to understand the jeopardy Gingrich faces.

The Republican Party has been making steady gains in Georgia and other Republicans, while losing, ran well.

Gingrich has no visible allies in the state legislature, and Georgia Democrats already are plotting to damage him further when they redraw the boundaries of his district next year.

In the neighborhoods around the airport, some of Gingrich's supporters wonder how much change they can expect from their high-profile, publicity-hungry congressman. There he was this week, peering out from the pages of People magazine, posing for a three-page pre-election photo spread in Washington. "What's Newt doing in People magazine?" Hancock asked. "He should be here in the Fayette County News."

Volunteers at Worley's headquarters were scouring precinct returns today in search of uncounted votes. They weren't optimistic the recount would change the outcome.

But they said they were glad to be directing the last act of Gingrich's 1990 reelection. As the spotlight-loving congressman retreated to Washington, they were shining the light a little longer on his vulnerabilities.