When women's rights organizations surveyed the Northern Virginia political races this fall to see where their influence might be enough for a victory for a sympathetic challenger, one race stood out.

"We hit that district [Fairfax County's 38th] hardest," Kathleen Whitson, director of canvassing for the National Women's Political Caucus, said last week. "We wanted Cody out."

Cody is Republican Del. Gwendalyn Cody, an outspoken opponent of the Equal Rights Amendment with a conservative voting record. She belongs to the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance, a conservative coalition that opposes virtually all tax increases, and is active in the Virginians for Initiative and Referendum.

The caucus hit the central Fairfax County district hard for Democratic challenger Nora A. Squyres, who has served on the group's steering committee.

The caucus sent staff workers from its Washington office to the district's subdivisions and apartment complexes. They began knocking on doors in August and had hit about 70,000 by Election Day. The mails also were peppered with campaign material for Squyres.

When the votes were counted in last week's election, the caucus had helped score the biggest political upset in the Northern Virginia delegate races -- by a slim 178-vote margin.

It was a stunning defeat in the eyes of many Republicans, and it was made even less palatable because Cody, 60, was the only incumbent in the Northern Virginia delegation defeated.

"There was an awful lot of push from outside to work that district real hard," said Ben Partin, Fairfax Republican Committee chairman.

Squyres, who worked for the federal government until her early retirement in June, said, "I was the caucus' project. They may have given me the margin of victory. They certainly helped."

She also had support from a wide range of interest groups. "I was supported by every group except the New Right," Squyres said.

But observers say other factors also played a role in the election. They note that the 38th District, sandwiched between Fairfax City and Falls Church, is considered a swing district. In fact, Cody won her first term last year in the General Assembly from a larger multimember district that included a large swath of Republican territory.

In this year's new single-member districts, the conservative Cody was pushed into a smaller district with a more moderate electorate.

In her one year in the General Assembly, Cody had acquired a strong name recognition in her campaign district compared to the virtually unknown Squyres. But Cody said the negative flavor of some of that name recognition may have hurt her reelection efforts.

"Some people have given me a character assassination," said Cody, referring to some Democratic legislators who publicly attacked her as abrasive and unable to get along with her colleagues.

"You can say my golf game blows hot and cold," Cody said, "but you can't say I'm abrasive and don't get along with people . . . . I've spent a lifetime working with people."

Cody admitted that Squyres and the caucus outworked her campaign staff. "We had a great campaign, and we didn't do it," she said.