Between them, they have served 32 years in the Virginia House of Delegates, a fact that puts both Del. Mary Marshall (D-Arlington) and Del. Dorothy McDiarmid (D-Fairfax) in senior positions in an institution that puts a premium on seniority.

This year, both women are facing opponents many years their junior who have been stressing the need for better grass-roots representation, a tougher stand on crime and lower taxes. For their part, the incumbents invoke their records, their years of service and, yes, their status in the male-dominated state Capitol.

It is a daunting defense, particularly coming from Marshall, 61, and McDiarmid, 75, both expert politicians who handle their opponents with a strong mix of charm and just a touch of disdain.

"He keeps claiming he has all this great energy," said McDiarmid of her Republican opponent, 26-year-old James Burroughs, "I have energy -- maybe not for jogging from here to Baltimore, but for what this job takes, believe me, I've got energy."

McDiarmid, a 19-year veteran of the legislature and champion of the ERA in its losing battle in Virginia, cites her ranking positions in Richmond, particularly her chairmanship of the House Education Committee, which, she tells voters, is "very important to have in Northern Virginian hands."

Burroughs concedes that running against McDiarmid in the Vienna-based 35th House District is "an uphill battle." "She is a fine lady," said Burroughs, a lawyer and former aide to Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.). "Perhaps everyone would like their opponent to have been convicted in Abscam. She is exactly the opposite."

Still, Burroughs argues that seniority is not enough. "Seniority is important to the extent that you are willing to use it to represent your district," he said. "There are a number of areas where she doesn't represent this district."

Burroughs, who has roughly matched McDiarmid in fund-raising so far, each with about $12,000, has that advantage over Marshall's challenger, 24-year-old David Mason. Mason, aide to Rep. Thomas J. Bliley (R-Va.), has raised only $2,180 so far against Marshall's $10,389.

Like McDiarmid, Marshall is a heavy favorite to win reelection from her newly drawn 48th District. An advocate on health and senior citizen issues who has served 13 years in Richmond, Marshall has traditionally topped the ticket in Arlington when running on a slate with her two fellow Arlington Democratic delegates.

Early in the campaign, Mason demanded an apology from Marshall--which he got--for statements she had made falsely accusing him of violating state election laws. After that, the campaign settled down to a debate over who would best look after the interests of Arlingtonians in Richmond.

Speaking recently before a group of Young Democrats and Young Republicans, Mason argued that Arlington, which hasn't elected a Republican to the legislature since 1973, could use a new approach. "We might even find that the Arlington team might be leavened with one Republican who could help win some votes from the 31 Republicans in the House," said Mason.

Both Mason and Burroughs say they differ with their opponents on crime, noting that they favor the death penalty -- already law in Virginia for various categories of murder -- and tougher mandatory sentencing laws.

These, says Burroughs, are some of the issues on the minds of the voters. "I have made a big effort to meet people and listen to them. That's why I think I can best represent the area," he said, "Knowing what they wanted 20 years ago doesn't mean you can represent them in the 1980s."