Republicans are pouring $1.7 million into a hunch that Americans will blame former Democratic mismanagement instead of President Reagan for the nation's drooping economy.
The reasoning goes: If Democrats could blame President Hoover for 40 years, then Republicans should be able to point the finger at President Jimmy Carter for less than two years.
''Economic problems did not appear out of thin air in January of 1981,'' said US Rep. Guy Vander Jagt (R) of Michigan on Monday, as he unveiled two 30-second TV commercials.
Sponsored by Mr. Vander Jagt's National Republican Campaign Committee and the Republican National Committee, the two ads inaugurate a much more expensive nationwide blitz to tell voters ''Republicans are beginning to make things better.''
In one of the ads, an ''attorney'' reads a ''last will'' as he sits between a Carter look-alike and an actor resembling Democratic House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. To the tune of ''Hearts and Flowers,'' the lawyer intones: ''To Ronald Reagan we leave a recession, inflation at 12.4 percent and rising, gas prices sky-high, government spending money like it was going out of style. . . .''
The message to voters is clear. President Reagan's problems are inherited, and he has slowed down government growth and inflation.
A second commercial features two couples going off on a fishing trip, commenting that everything from food to gasoline has become more affordable.
Responding to the slogan ''Republicans are beginning to make things better,'' Speaker O'Neill said, ''Better for whom?'' He cited the jobless, small businessmen, farmers, and senior citizens ''frightened by proposed cuts in social security,'' as well as home buyers and students.
The Speaker also scored the Republicans for caricaturing a former President in the ad. ''I'm in public office and I can take it,'' he said, adding that those no longer in public life should not be made fun of.
The newest Republican effort is their third major national ad campaign, a strategy they began using in the 1980 elections by telling the public to ''vote Republican for a change.'' Backed by massive direct-mail fund-raising, Republicans will have little trouble financing the almost $2 million for the ads , which will run soon on national networks. Vander Jagt called them a first wave of a campaign that will include ads on unemployment, the elderly, and farmers.