Republican Party leaders left Washington this weekend saying that the Persian Gulf crisis had established President Bush as a strong national leader and favorite for reelection next year. They talked optimistically of making some congressional Democrats pay at the polls for their opposition to the war.

Despite worries about recession and uncertainty over the length of the gulf conflict, members of the Republican National Committee and state GOP chairmen gave generally upbeat assessments of the political scene.

"If the conflict is short and the recession ends, George Bush can really be moving full steam," said Bob Barry, the executive director of the Ohio GOP. "I'm looking at 1992 with a lot of promise."

"Politically, it's gangbusters," said Clarke Reed of Mississippi. "This is the only thing that could give Bush coattails."

Just beneath the surface of the ebullience many GOP leaders exhibited during their winter meeting here was anxiety about how long the political good news can last. "We've got the S&L crisis, a recession, and I'm afraid the war in the Middle East may not turn out as well as it began," said Georgia committeeman Carl L. Gillis Jr. "Somehow we've got to pay for all this."

But most GOP activists, who elected former agriculture secretary Clayton K. Yeutter to lead them Friday, said their party is on the upswing. Gone and nearly forgotten are the divisions that resulted from Bush's retreat from his "no-new-taxes" pledge last fall. "The president has more support than I've ever seen," said Will McKinley, executive director of the Florida GOP. "It's wiped out the memories of the budget flap."

As the president's party enters the 1992 presidential campaign season, its leaders are solidifying their united front. Although few appeared impressed by Yeutter's maiden address Friday, many said they were moved by a meeting with Bush that morning that showed them an emotional side of the normally reserved president they said they had not previously seen.

"I think if there has ever been any question of him being a wimp, that's been taken care of," said RNC secretary Kit Mehrtens, who is an Arizona committeewoman.

"He was inspirational this morning," said Illinois committeeman Harold Smith. "But '92 depends on how it all works out."

GOP activists are cautious in predicting how much the president's popularity will help in other 1992 races in their states. At least half a dozen Republicans are lining up to run for the Senate in Michigan, said committeewoman Ronna Romney, not only because "Bush's star is very high," but also because Sen. Donald W. Riegle Jr. (D-Mich.) is under Senate investigation for his S&L ties.

In Florida, where Bush "has very strong support," according to chairman Van Poole, several GOP representatives are considering a race against freshman Democratic Sen. Bob Graham. After two successful races for governor and a hard-fought Senate victory, Graham would normally seem to be entrenched. But executive director McKinley said the anti-incumbent sentiment that almost caught up with Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) last November has convinced challengers that "no one is safe."

Republicans are privately pessimistic, however, about their chances of gaining Senate seats in 1992 in such other expected Bush strongholds as Georgia, Arkansas, Illinois and the Dakotas.

New Jersey Republicans are hoping widespread discontent with Democrat Gov. Jim Florio's handling of state budget and tax issues will improve their chances of shifting control of the state legislature this November and setting the stage for further gains in 1992.

The war may have a targeted fallout as well, some Republicans hope. "People who support the president obviously will have an edge," said California chairman Frank Visco. "I would not take away from {Democrats'} patriotism. But from the political perspective, they do have some answering to do."

In Connecticut, GOP activists are using the war as the cornerstone of their strategy for upsetting favored Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D). "Dodd is shamelessly pandering to the Jewish vote, going to synagogues and talking about his support for Israel," said Connecticut GOP chairman Richard Foley. "But he not only voted against Bush on the Persian Gulf, if you go back a few years, you find him voting against cruise missiles and Patriots. These are threshold questions we will raise." New York Republican officials have similar plans for several Democratic representatives with large Jewish constituencies who opposed the war.

Several Republicans expressed bemused pleasure that no Democrat is actively seeking the 1992 presidential nomination. Some said Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) could have been Bush's toughest challenger, but that Nunn weakened himself when he led the fight against the war. New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo (D), also thought to be considering the 1992 presidential race, will be dragged down by his state's budget crisis, New York Republicans said.