As the entourage moved toward center stage, the aide whispered to her fellow campaign worker, "I tell you they're not going to let him do it. They said the people are more interested in the tractor-pull than in hearing another campaign speech.

Gubernatorial candidate Charles S Robb and his two running mates, Richard Davis and Jerry Baliles, the Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general, never got a chance to deliver campaign speeches during the Prince Willian County Fair Tractor Pull this weekend, but they did get an audible introduction to the crowd of several thousand.

That was more than could be said for the four Democratic candidates for the House of Delegates from the new 23rd district covering Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park.

As the announcer read the names Floyd Bagley, David Brickley, Bob Allen and Norborne Beville, his words were drowned out by the revving of souped up tractors.

And that, say the four candidates, is indicative of what it means to run for the three open seats on the Democratic primary ticket in the 23rd district: not only is it tough to be recognized, it's even tougher to be heard.

"People not only don't know the names of the current delegates, most of the time they don't even know there's a primary," said first-time candidate Bob Allen, who said he hit the 3,000th home this week in his door-to-door campaign.

Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park have never been a candidate's delight. With the population growing rapidly -- in the early 1970s Prince William was the fastest growing county in the country and much of it was due to migration from out of state -- name recognition and voter awareness of the issues have always been a problem.

This year seems to be no different.

Most candidates say they expect at least three of every 10 registered voters from the last state election to have left the area. A fact, they say, that poses a double dilemma: Do you go for the personality game or do you hit hard on the issues?

Most Democrats hit hard on the personality.

"I've worked in 10 campaigns in this area and almost all of them have been won on personality. Issues never seem to make much of a difference," says campaign worker Chuck Colgan Jr. son of Prince William state Sen. Charles Colgan.

Allen, a former Dale Carnegie instructor who is a professor of communications at George Mason University, agrees. "I've really been surprised. I thought everyone would have a personal axe to grind and I would hear it. That just hasn't happened. People are more interested in talking about how many houses I've visited. They'll say, 'Gee whiz, you've gone to how many houses?' and then want to offer moral support.' "

Perhaps one of the major reasons personality plays such a major role in the primary is that, like the "tweedle-dee tweedle-dum" label frequently placed on the gubernatorial candidates, few issues appear to divide the four Democratic legislative candidates. All want more state aid for Northern Virginia, all believe public transportation should be encouraged in the area, all want more money for education and all think tougher sentences should be imposed for serious criminal offenses. Only Allen, among the Democrats, doesn't support ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, while all endorse extension of the Voting Rights Act, with Brickley and Beville adding that it should be applied uniformly to all states.

"Oh, I don't know if there are too many issues dividing us from the Republicans, but I guess there really aren't any major differences among the party candidates. It's all a little friendly rivalry," says soft-spoken candidate Beville, a lawyer who ran unsucessfully for a delegate's seat several years ago.

At one point during the fair, Belville, a one-time Prince William Democratic Party chairman, swooped up his two young children who happened to be brandishing pale blue balloons scripted with "Vote Republican."

"If they want to give them away for free, we'll take anything the Republicans have to offer," he said.

If there are so few isses dividing the candidates then why run, and why run as a Democrat?

"I feel there comes a time when a person has to give back to his community," Beville responds. "I've always been a Democrat."

"It's time to break up this 'gold watch mentality.' In Virginia, if you put in your time there's a feeling you should be rewarded with a political title. That's not right," explains Allen. Although he is a Democrat, Allen said he voted for Ronald Reagan during the past election.

"The only difference between Democrats and Republicans in Prince William is that the Republicans are better organized . . . but my sense is that if you want to win here, you've still got to be a Democrat, party identification is still strong.

"Northern Virginia needs seniority. We're finally getting close to a committee chairmanship and it would be silly to throw it away," says Bagley, seeking his fifth term. Bagley first ran as a Republican for a House seat in 1961. "The reason I switched and became a Democrat was because it was the only way you could win then. The Byrd machine was too entrenched to break."

"The first time I ran, I did so because we needed more constituent services for Northern Virginia. I still believe that . . . This time I'm running because my mission is still not complete and although I'm not big on seniority, unfortunately the Virginia House of Delegates is . . . this time around we're really trying to get seniority," answers Brickley, also seeking a fifth term. Until a redistricting shake-up this year, Brickley ran as a member of the "3-Bs." Brickley and Bagley are still campaigning together, but fellow B-member Earl Bell is going it alone in Loudoun County's 17th District, another new district.

"If they're don't seem to be a lot of differences between the two parties it should be better for the voter . . . there are no extremists and I guess, that's representative of the people here," says Brickley.