Vice President George Bush will go to New Orleans in 10 days to claim the Republican Party's presidential nomination.

But he'll enter his race against Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee, as the underdog.National polls show that Dukakis leads Bush by varying degrees in most of the geographic areas of the nation.

Dukakis took a jump in the polls after he did a fine job in managing and addressing last month's National Democratic Convention in Atlanta.

Bush will have a similar opportunity at prime-time television audiences, and may close the gap.

But even with a good showing in New Orleans, and with a good choice for his vice presidential running mate, Bush has his work cut out for him.

First of all, history is against him.

The simple fact is only rarely have Americans voted the same party into the presidency after eight years of that party holding the high office.

No matter how popular the incumbent president is - and Ronald Reagan has been a popular president - people get tired of the same old faces.

A number of comparisons will be made this year with the 1960 presidential election. Dukakis and John Kennedy are from Massachusetts. They both picked Texas politicians as running mates - Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Lyndon Johnson.

The Republicans picked the incumbent's vice president as their nominee, Bush and Richard Nixon.

The country had gone through relatively peaceful, fruitful times in the previous eight years. But the popularity of the incumbent Republican President Ike Eisenhower didn't carry over to his vice president in the 1960 presidential contest. That year, of course, voters opted for a change. In a very close race - a difference of around 100,000 votes - Kennedy beat Nixon. If Bush doesn't run a better race than Nixon did, the outcome this year could be the same.

Bush is being analyzed every which way by pollsters and political experts. One of his weaknesses is in the women's vote. He trails Dukakis badly there.

Some say he must move more to the political center, showing voters his compassion for people. But conservatives counsel against this, warning that Bush can't out-Democrat the Democrats.

In the last two weeks, Bush has been playing both sides of the fence. He lobbied Reagan hard to veto the defense spending bill, saying now is not the time to let down America's guard. Reagan did, arguing liberals for too long have harmed defense.

Then, appealing to the political middle, Bush announced his program of child day care. What's funny about Bush's day care plan - which includes a $1,000-per-head tax credit for every child of a working parent in day care - is that it resembles that arch-liberal George McGovern's 1972 proposal to guarantee every poor American a $1,000 minimum income.

Conservatives say Bush will certainly be defeated if he tries to play to everyone. He must develop his own, conservative, theme.

That's a tough one. Anyone who looks at Bush's political career sees that he hasn't consistently had a theme of his own. He's worked for men who had such themes, most notably Reagan. But working for someone with a vision isn't the same as having one yourself.

Some suggest that Bush must re-package Reaganism and sell it anew. But considering that Reagan's own popularity has dropped since the Iran/Contra affair, and that Reagan can't re-package Reagan, Bush probably can't, either.

So the challenge is before Bush. He must carry the fight to Dukakis. He must, in some way, make a name for himself; put forth his own identity.

And he must hope for a little help, that something goes wrong with Dukakis' or the Democrats' campaign. Perhaps Jesse Jackson will split from the Dukakis camp. Perhaps Dukakis himself will make some big mistake - although he certainly hasn't shown such impetuousness before.

Bush has 100 days before the election to turn the race around.