The Democratic candidates are Toni M. Carney, a former School Board representative for the Springfield District, and Beatriz "B" Garcia, a civic activist from Chantilly.

The Springfield District, which sprawls across southwestern Fairfax and includes more than a quarter of the county's land, has long been considered a Republican stronghold.

It is also the most rapidly growing of the county's eight magisterial districts and with an estimated 111,600 residents has the largest population of any district. In 1980, the population was 75,715.

Officials from both parties believe that McConnell, a conservative Republican who is generally considered prodevelopment, could be unseated. McConnell has served one four-year term and has no primary opponent.

The question for the Democrats, according to party officials, is whether the party out of power will be too fractured after the primary to mount a successful campaign against McConnell.

"Unfortunately, it seems to have deteriorated into who is the better Democrat, who can pass the litmus test," said Gerry Serody, chairman of the Springfield Democratic Committee. "Neither {Democratic} candidate can win {in November} without a unified party, and that may be a problem if they start throwing stones."

At issue is the party affiliation of Carney, who served on the School Board from 1978 to 1984 as the appointee of former Springfield supervisor Marie B. Travesky, then a Republican who was often regarded as too liberal by many members of her own party. Travesky lost the Republican primary to McConnell in 1983.

Travesky switched to the Democratic Party last summer. Carney, who says that she has always considered herself an independent, joined the county Democratic committee a short time later.

According to party officials, she has the backing of most of the Springfield District Democratic Party regulars in the primary.

Nonetheless, Garcia said in a recent interview that she thinks Carney is "definitely" a Republican. Asked if she would support Carney if Carney wins the primary, Garcia said, "I'd have to think about it."

Garcia said that the advantage Carney has in name recognition is reduced by a "lack of credibility because of her switch over from the Republican to the Democratic Party to run in this race. I am credible. I am consistent. I would never compromise my political principles or values." In Virginia, voters do not register by party.

Carney says she would support Garcia if Garcia wins the primary. She was asked at a candidates' forum last week about her past political affiliations and said her "background has largely been independent."

Asked why her signature appears on a March 1986 Fairfax County Republican Committee document that states, in part, "It is my intention to support the principles and nominees of the Republican Party," Carney said that signing the document allowed her to participate in the selection of the chairman of the county Republican Party, which at the time was threatened to be "run over by extremists," she said.

"I am a moderate," she said. "Any time I have had an opportunity to reduce extremism, I have taken it. At the time, I was an independent. I make no apologies."

Democratic state Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, whose district includes most of the Springfield District, said the question of Carney's past affiliation is "not germane . . . . People in this county have been switching parties since time immemorial," he said. He cited Republican Board Chairman John F. Herrity, who used to be a Democrat, as a prime example.

While some debate Carney's credentials, others believe her ties to the Republicans make her an attractive Democratic candidate in Springfield, which has been represented by Republicans at the county board since Herrity was elected supervisor in 1971.

Carney, 45, a former Springfield District School Board member, is well known and could look for support and campaign contributions districtwide from PTAs, teachers and others in the educational community. A resident of the county for 19 years, she also has served as a board member on the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations and has held posts on a variety of local, state and national education boards and associations.

Carney, who lives in Burke, said that "somehow over the last four years, the official vehicle of the Springfield District has become a backhoe or an earthmover."

"We are hundreds of millions of dollars short of being able to build a road network to support the rezonings in this county," Carney said. She said she would support a bond referendum for road improvements, "because in the last one {the Springfield District} didn't get one penny."

Garcia, 47, a 15-year resident of Fairfax County, has been president of the Brookfield Citizens Association since 1984 and has made a name for herself as a strong opponent of developer interests in the western part of the county.

She served as the Springfield District coordinator in the 1985 Baliles for Governor campaign, and is a member of the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations, the Rocky Run Intermediate School PTA, and other community groups.

"The agenda of those currently serving as county supervisors is contrary to the preservation of our fundamental rights. It protects the polluter, promotes the destruction of our environment and encourages the congestion of our roads and highways," she said.

Both candidates have said that they will not accept campaign donations from developers.

Garcia's campaign, according to financial reports, is being paid for largely by a $4,900 loan from her husband. Carney had raised $1,600, including a $1,000 loan from herself. Advisers believe that Carney has the greater fund-raising potential.

Although political strategists say Carney is the current favorite in the primary because of her higher name recognition if nothing else, they note that primaries are especially unpredictable because of traditionally low voter turnout. Of 57,000 registered voters in the Springfield District in 1983, only about 1,300 voted in the primary, compared with about 16,000 in the general election, according to Serody.

If Carney should win the primary, it is unlikely that McConnell will raise the issue of her party affiliation as an issue in the general election, according to one of McConnell's political advisers.

However, Tom Giska, a former member of the Springfield Democratic Committee, said he will consider running as an independent in the general election in an attempt to draw from Carney and sabotage her campaign. Virginia law permits independent candidates to file for the general election as late as 7 p.m. June 9, the date of the primary.

Party officials say that Giska has no credibility in their ranks. "He's burned his bridges to the Democratic party," Serody said. "He's full of wild accusations and shoots from the lips constantly."