There's a familiar ring to the campaign in Virginia's 38th House District, where Republican Gwendolyn Cody is trying to win back the seat she lost to Democrat Nora Squyres last year by a mere 178 votes.

It will be the third time in as many years that the two have run for the legislature from the same district, and the second time they've competed in a head-to-head race for the seat representing a slice of central Fairfax County. With each election, their rivalry has heated up a few degrees. The campaign is still young, but both candidates are poised for what some say will be the liveliest legislative race in Northern Virginia this year.

This time, Squyres, a 63-year-old real estate agent, and Cody, a 61-year-old researcher, start off with an even score. Thanks to the electoral merry-go-round produced by Virginia's protracted battle over redistricting, both have served one year in the General Assembly, giving each an equal claim to experience.

On current issues, there is little difference between the two: Both promise to fight for more state transportation aid for Northern Virginia and more money for education, all the while pledging to hold the line on new taxes.

But the Squyres-Cody rematch already has taken on a slightly nasty tone -- a tone that dates back to last year when Cody, with staunchly conservative credentials, was targeted for defeat by womens' groups opposed to her stand against the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion.

The same themes were resurrected during the GOP primary this spring, when Cody was challenged by a moderate Republican who attacked her as a "single and narrow-issue candidate."

This fall, Squyres, a self-described "14-carat feminist," clearly intends to plow the same ground. She is offering herself as a candidate with "an open door and an open mind," an approach that she says contrasts with Cody's. "I feel to a certain extent that my opponent has a closed mind to the realities of how to accomplish the functions of government," says Squyres, a former financial analyst with a degree from the University of Geneva.

Squyres plans to spend about $25,000 to get her message across, particularly to the same moderate Republicans who backed Cody's opponent in the primary. "I didn't get into this because I was tired of knitting or tired of gardening. I got into this to offer positive approaches and I'm going to ask the voters to compare our qualifications," said Squyres. "My message is not only that I am an acceptable candidate, but that she is unacceptable."

Cody, a cofounder of Virginians for Initiative and Referendum and a vice president of Fairfax County's Taxpayers Alliance, two conservative groups, is no less barbed in her comments about Squyres. "I'm a person who has been very involved in a number of issues," says Cody, who has lived in the Camelot subdivision for the past 18 years. "Until she came on the scene as a candidate in the Democratic primary in 1981 , I don't know what she was involved in. Nobody knows anything about Nora Squyres."

On the charge that hers is a narrowly based campaign, Cody is quick with a counterattack. "The single- issue candidate is Nora Squyres and her issue is the ERA," says Cody. Although she got strong support from Right to Life groups in her primary campaign, Cody denies that she made abortion an issue. "It was not an issue, not in my estimation," she says. "Believe me, we had other issues to campaign on."

This year, Squyres and Cody are running with candidates for local offices, unlike 1982 when the delegate races were held in tandem with federal elections. "This will be a different kind of election," notes House Minority Leader Vincent Callahan (R-Fairfax), who ranked the 38th District as one of the GOP's two best shots to pick up a seat in Northern Virginia this fall. "It's going to be a smaller turnout, a more sophisticated turnout. I'd say the thing is very, very close."

Cody and Squyres have yet to meet on the campaign trail and so far, only two joint appearances are planned. But Squyres, who expects the district to be targeted by conservatives from all over the region, senses that the race will get rough. "Last time, we conducted a civilized campaign," she said. "I get the impression that it is not going to be that way this time and I regret that."