The fading images of World War II battle scenes flickered across the television set in a fashionable Richmond apartment the other night, while the Tidewater drawl of Virginia U.S. Senate candidate Richard J. Davis intoned in the background.

"Getting out of a landing boat with 10,000 Japanese shooting at you," said the lieutenant governor. "If that's not a character-building experience, I don't want any character."

The war footage -- reminiscent of the old "Victory at Sea" television series -- is the highlight of a new four-and-half minute film biography of the 61-year-old Davis, assembled by media consultant Robert Squier, that will make its debut on the state's airwaves Tuesday. Aside from some familiar homilies about balancing the federal budget, there is no discussion of the issues -- the economy, unemployment, national defense -- in this, the first of Davis' television commercials. Nor is there so much as a mention of the Democratic Party.

That omission, as adman Squier and other Virginia Democrats explain, is no accident. Off to a late start and trailing his Republican opponent, three-term congressman Paul S. Trible Jr., by a fundraising margin of more than two to one, Davis has shown little interest in engaging in a substantive debate with his 35-year-old opponent. Instead, the Davis camp is building its campaign on more personal themes--background, experience, maturity, character.

"The advantage that Davis has in this campaign is that you have a really interesting personality," says Squier. "I think that's really attractive right now."

The Davis ads are aimed at striking a contrast between the candidates that is as vivid as the difference between Davis' white-haired good looks and Trible's sandy-haired youthfulness. In a news conference last week, Davis hammered away at Trible's character as an important "issue" in the campaign, painting the former county prosecutor as a political opportunist, a man suffering from a "lack of integrity." The pitch fits nicely into Davis' own image campaign that casts him as the elder statesman.

From Trible's perspective, however, the ad -- much like Davis' entire campaign -- shows how the Democratic candidate is attempting to camouflage his lack of knowledge on national issues. "If you looked at Dick Davis' ad, you'd think he was running for senior class president," said Neil Cotiaux, Trible's spokesman. "We're not running a popularity contest here -- we're running a campaign for the U.S. Senate."

Logging thousands of miles in campaign stops around the state, including one in Alexandria yesterday, the avuncular Davis seems eager to show off the personality that Squier hopes will become the cornerstone of this year's Democratic election effort. Where last year's lieutenant governor contest found him greeting prospective voters with an almost patrician diffidence, this year Davis' business-suited, wing-tipped persona is draped with witty charm and personal warmth.

Still, strategists for the self-made millionaire mortgage banker say Davis has to rely on more than a homespun demeanor if he is to throw off his underdog image and offset Trible's head start.

While Trible unofficially began campaigning for Virginia's Senate seat in 1979 (before, in fact, retiring Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. even announced that he would not run again), Davis was pressed into service at his party's convention only two months ago. The former Portsmouth mayor had been in office as lieutenant governor a scant six months at the time.

That left Davis only a few weeks to assemble an organization and raise funds before the campaign started in earnest.

Thus far, the Davis camp has raised only $450,000 of its $1.6 million goal -- and almost a quarter of that, or $100,000, has come from Davis' own pocket in what he says is a "loan." (Davis has yet to be paid back $42,750 from a similar $55,000 loan Va.'s Davis Campaigns From a Personal Platform By Patricia E. Bauer And Michael Isikoff Washington Post Staff Writers

The fading images of World War II battle scenes flickered across the television set in a fashionable Richmond apartment the other night, while the Tidewater drawl of Virginia U.S. Senate candidate Richard J. Davis intoned in the background.

"Getting out of a landing boat with 10,000 Japanese shooting at you," said the lieutenant governor. "If that's not a character-building experience, I don't want any character."

The war footage--reminiscent of the old "Victory at Sea" television series--is the highlight of a new four-and-half minute film biography of the 61-year-old Davis, assembled by media consultant Robert Squier, that will make its debut on the state's airwaves Tuesday. Aside from some familiar homilies about balancing the federal budget, there is no discussion of the issues -- the economy, unemployment, national defense -- in this, the first of Davis' television commercials. Nor is there so much as a mention of the Democratic Party.

That omission, as adman Squier and other Virginia Democrats explain, is no accident. Off to a late start and trailing his Republican opponent, three-term congressman Paul S. Trible Jr., by a fundraising margin of more than two to one, Davis has shown little interest in engaging in a substantive debate with his 35-year-old opponent. Instead, the Davis camp is building its campaign on more personal themes -- background, experience, maturity, character.

"The advantage that Davis has in this campaign is that you have a really interesting personality," says Squier. "I think that's really attractive right now."

The Davis ads are aimed at striking a contrast between the candidates that is as vivid as the difference between Davis' white-haired good looks and Trible's sandy-haired youthfulness. In a news conference last week, Davis hammered away at Trible's character as an important "issue" in the campaign, painting the former county prosecutor as a political opportunist, a man suffering from a "lack of integrity." The pitch fits nicely into Davis' own image campaign that casts him as the elder statesman.

From Trible's perspective, however, the ad -- much like Davis' entire campaign -- shows how the Democratic candidate is attempting to camouflage his lack of knowledge on national issues. "If you looked at Dick Davis' ad, you'd think he was running for senior class president," said Neil Cotiaux, Trible's spokesman. "We're not running a popularity contest here -- we're running a campaign for the U.S. Senate."

Logging thousands of miles in campaign stops around the state, including one in Alexandria yesterday, the avuncular Davis seems eager to show off the personality that Squier hopes will become the cornerstone of this year's Democratic election effort. Where last year's lieutenant governor contest found him greeting prospective voters with an almost patrician diffidence, this year Davis' business-suited, wing-tipped persona is draped with witty charm and personal warmth.

Still, strategists for the self-made millionaire mortgage banker say Davis has to rely on more than a homespun demeanor if he is to throw off his underdog image and offset Trible's head start.

While Trible unofficially began campaigning for Virginia's Senate seat in 1979 (before, in fact, retiring Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. even announced that he would not run again), Davis was pressed into service at his party's convention only two months ago. The former Portsmouth mayor had been in office as lieutenant governor a scant six months at the time.

That left Davis only a few weeks to assemble an organization and raise funds before the campaign started in earnest.

Thus far, the Davis camp has raised only $450,000 of its $1.6 million goal -- and almost a quarter of that, or $100,000, has come from Davis' own pocket in what he says is a "loan." (Davis has yet to be paid back $42,750 from a similar $55,000 loan that he made to his campaign for lieutenant governor last year.)

Trible, by comparison, has raised $1.2 million in contributions and expects to raise more than $2 million by election day. Davis insists he is rapidly closing the money gap, thanks in part to the fund-raising help of his former running mate, Gov. Charles S. Robb. Besides, say Davis aides, a private poll in July showed Davis actually leading Trible by 5 percentage points.

"In six weeks, it's gone from, 'Will Davis make it?' to -- at worst -- 'Davis is even,' " says James Carville, Davis' campaign manager.

Swinging easily through a breakneck schedule of Northern Virginia campaign appearances here recently, Davis continually emphasized his personal experience theme. With the exception of some general statements on unemployment and the need for a "midcourse correction" in the nation's economic policies, rarely did he mention his positions on specific issues.

Indeed, his campaign staffers have been telling reporters that he hasn't really had time yet to focus on the issues, although they promise that the first of a series of Davis "position papers" -- this one on national defense -- will be released Tuesday. Yet, when Davis was buttonholed by a persistent questioner at the Arlington County Fair who wanted to know how he would cut the federal budget, he sidestepped the question.

Davis' emphasis on personality rather than substance seems a far cry from the man the state's Democratic delegates saw at their convention last June, when their newly nominated candidate delivered a biting critique of Reaganomics. In the interim, Davis pollster Peter D. Hart told the Davis camp that Reagan's popularity is still strong in conservative Virginia. That data, Davis insists, has nothing to do with his apparent decision against making Reagan the focus of his campaign.

"I'm not placing all the blame on Reagan. There's enough blame to go around," Davis says. "I'm going to be for him when he's right and against him when he's wrong."

Without Reagan to attack, Davis apparently is choosing to highlight his Marine background while softpedalling the issues that could make many in conservative Virginia view him as a liberal: He supports the Equal Rights Amendment, and opposes capital punishment, a constitutional amendment to ban abortion and tax breaks for schools that practice discrimination.

And there is humor.

Approaching a woman at a McLean brunch held in his honor last weekend, Davis said gravely: "I hope you'll vote for me -- I run every year."

Later, as the group assembled in expectation of some high-blown campaign rhetoric, Davis told them instead about how his wife Martha had reacted when his party blessed him with a senatorial nomination that he had promised her he would neither seek nor accept.

"Richard," he recalled her whispering as she waved to thousands of cheering conventioneers, "It's a good thing you're not a woman, or you'd be pregnant all your life."

In the early days of the campaign, Davis strategists studied Robb's election success after 12 straight years of Democratic losses, and concluded that a polite contest in Virginia's gentlemanly tradition could only hurt Davis. So they decided Davis should run an aggressive campaign -- especially, they say, if the GOP tried to capitalize on hostility toward labor unions and blacks.

The result has been a succession of heated exchanges reminiscent of last year's contest between Robb and the GOP's J. Marshall Coleman. When Trible put out a memo several weeks ago accusing Davis of trying to solicit funds from organized labor in New York, Davis came out swinging. His campaign denounced the memo, which quoted an anonymous source, as "completely untrue," and attempted to use it as evidence of his opponent's "lack of credibility."

"There seems to be a lack of integrity on some of the basic things," Davis said in a reference to the memo at a press conference Friday.

The Trible campaign has stood by its memo, refusing to issue either a retraction or an apology, but it seems clear that Davis' strategy has placed the Republicans on the defensive by keeping the incident in the public spotlight.

"It's a nonissue," says Trible spokesman Cotiaux.

There also has been considerable sniping back and forth over the symbols that are so important in Virginia politics. When a recent newspaper story noted that Davis' campaign literature stressed his World War II Marine experience, for example, the Trible campaigners grumbled that Davis was trying to paint the GOP candidate as a "shirker." That drew a sharp retort from Davis, who griped that his foes were "trying to make me ashamed of my military service."

Through it all, Davis has been plagued by the occasional fits and starts of a campaign organization that has been operating only a few weeks. Political Profiles Inc., a newsletter on national politics, reports in its current issue that its editors had "more trouble trying to arrange an interview with Davis than with any other candidate or government official we have ever contacted."

None of that, Davis says, should be too worrisome to the man who was the biggest vote-getter on the Democratic ticket last year. After all, he says wryly, "748,000 people voted for me more than a year ago for one reason or another. I've done nothing to either credit or discredit myself since then, so certainly a good percentage of those people would vote for me again."