Charles E. Beatley, who suffered what appeared to be a career-ending defeat last year in a bitter race for mayor of Alexandria, easily won the Democratic primary in Virginia's 8th Congressional District yesterday.

By defeating political novice Clifford E. Snyder, the 69-year-old Beatley won the right to run what is expected to be an uphill race against Republican Rep. Stan Parris in the Nov. 4 general election.

Beatley, who spent five terms as Alexandria's mayor before his former protege James P. Moran Jr. turned him out of office, received 2,693 votes, or 73 percent, in an unusually light turnout, His strongest support came from Alexandria, where he received more than 80 percent of the vote.

About 4,000 people voted yesterday, compared with 10,000 who voted in the congressional primary two years ago.

Snyder, who until January worked as a scientist for the Army's Medical Service Corps, received 1,092 votes, or 26 percent, in the only Democratic congressional primary in Virginia.

"I am thrilled by the outcome," Beatley said last night from a victory party at his home. "I feel very proud to have done so well in Alexandria."

The 8th District, with approximately 300,000 registered voters, includes Alexandria and parts of Fairfax, Prince William and Stafford counties. Parris, who made a short and unsuccessful bid for governor last year, has won election from the district four times.

Democrats and Republicans agree that it would take a lot of political savvy -- and luck -- for Beatley to defeat the popular Parris, who has already raised more than $225,000.

Beatley said yesterday he would emphasize the transportation needs in Northern Virginia in his race against Parris. "I have something to offer, and I think Parris has something to answer for," he said.

The primary had little active campaigning and few contested issues.

Although Snyder hit Beatley hard during the campaign for his refusal to enter a debate sponsored by the Fairfax Young Democrats, he said last night that the differences between him and Beatley were not substantial.

"I'm going to help Chuck Beatley in any way I can," he said from his home in Fairfax County. "We have to work together to help defeat Stan Parris."

Snyder had hoped that Beatley's name recognition did not extend beyond Alexandria. But 15 years as the city's mayor gave Beatley an unquestionable foothold among Democratic Party regulars, party officials said.

Beatley's loss to Moran last year came in an unusually divisive mayoral electon that Moran entered only after Beatley repeatedly criticized Police Chief Charles T. Strobel, who had been accused of mishandling a drug investigation.

Strobel, a 28-year veteran of the police force, was cleared of any impropriety by a special state grand jury last year and was then acquitted by a federal jury in April of perjury and obstruction of justice charges.

Beatley was not the only Alexandrian eyeing a comeback yesterday.

Donald C. Casey, a close ally of the former mayor -- and the only other incumbent defeated in the 1985 Alexandria elections -- may enter the special election for an Alexandria City Council seat that will become vacant this fall.

Moran and Casey, who have argued openly in the past, met Sunday to discuss the election.

"Whether I run for office or not," Casey said yesterday, "the time had come to get the past nastiness behind us."