RICHMOND, JULY 27 -- Lt. Gov. L. Douglas Wilder's much-touted Underdog Fund, established after Wilder's precedent-setting 1985 election, awarded its first grant today, to a candidate who Wilder admitted "does not fit the classic mold" of an underdog.

The recipient of the $2,500 check is lawyer J. Jack Kennedy of Wise, a white male Democratic nominee for the Virginia House of Delegates who is running against a white Republican woman in a Southwest Virginia district that is believed to have never elected a Republican or a woman to the legislature.

"If he {Kennedy} is an underdog, it's because during the primary he acted like a pit bull," said Steve Haner, spokesman for the state Republican Party.

For Kennedy, who defeated Del. James W. Robinson in a costly Democratic primary in the 2nd District, the gift appeared to confirm the biblical prophecy about casting bread upon the water: He was among the first supporters of the fund, having made a $750 contribution to it Dec. 26, 1985.

The term underdog, which is defined as one who is at a disadvantage or expected to lose, "takes a number of flavors," said Wilder.

"I was an underdog for the nomination even though I had no opposition."

Wilder announced formation of the fund Dec. 2, 1985, less than a month after becoming the first black elected to statewide office in Virginia, culminating a campaign that began with few political savants giving him much of a chance against his white Republican rival, state Sen. John H. Chichester.

Wilder was elected in a Democratic sweep that produced Virginia's first female statewide officeholder, Attorney General Mary Sue Terry. Wilder and Terry are considered likely rivals for the 1989 Democratic nomination for governor.

As with his victory, Wilder's Underdog Fund attracted nationwide attention. Rep. William (Bill) Clay (D-Mo.) praised it as "a doggone good idea" in remarks on the floor of the House of Representatives. Contributions poured in from around the country -- from labor unions, black organizations, a Wall Street brokerage house -- and $5,000 was donated by the Adolph Coors Co.

A total of $118,969 was collected, including about $50,000 surplus from Wilder's campaign.

State Board of Elections records show that all but $35,282 of the fund has been used for expenses, including about $60,000 spent on a pair of lavish inaugural parties hosted by Wilder.

The two events -- a $250-a-person black-tie dinner for 300 before the inaugural ball, and a $25 champagne breakfast for 1,500 after it -- netted the fund about $30,000.

The fund was originally intended to provide technical assistance to dark horse candidates, regardless of party affiliation, for nonfederal offices throughout the country.

The assistance was to come mostly from Paul Goldman, the lawyer who masterminded Wilder's campaign.

But last October, after having made no awards, Wilder said it was necessary to change the plan because "everybody was asking for money" instead of Goldman's expertise.

The new format allows for cash grants for specific purposes -- Kennedy is to use his for a fund-raising mailing -- and it limits recipients to candidates for the Virginia General Assembly, with an emphasis on, but not a limitation to, minority and female candidates.

Goldman said he has received between $5,000 and $10,000 from the fund in consulting fees, plus expenses, while traveling around the country, mostly in the South, seeking worthy recipients.

Wilder has attempted to insulate himself from decisions -- and political second-guessing -- about which candidates get help, by naming a five-member committee to oversee the fund.

The partisan committee, headed by Richmond lawyer Jacqueline C. Epps, includes the chairman of the state Democratic Party and the party's central committeewoman from Kennedy's home county.

Epps said the fund "may stay in business beyond November," but Wilder said he does not plan to participate in any subsequent fund- raising by the fund.

Kennedy's Republican opponent, Bonnie Elosser, 44, a political novice and former dean at Clinch Valley College, laughed upon being told that her Democratic foe had been given an "underdog" grant. "Nobody's ever heard tell of a Republican" from Wise County in the legislature, said Elosser, who said the only GOP officeholder there anyone can remember is the longtime county treasurer.

Epps said Kennedy applied for the grant and was selected because he had a difficult and costly primary and a well-financed Republican opponent.

She added that the definition of underdog does not "necessarily exclude white males."

Records at the state Board of Elections show that through July 10, Elosser, who was uncontested for the nomination, had raised $4,900 and had $1,495 on hand. Kennedy showed contributions of $41,651, expenses of $49,555, debts of $16,581 and $4,095 on hand.