Joseph V. Vasapoli, the self-described underdog in the 31st District Senate race against incumbent Edward M. Holland, has turned what was expected to be a routine exercise into a spirited wrestling match.

In one corner is Democrat Holland, a wealthy, 47-year-old banker and real estate investor who has been a strong team player on the five-person Arlington state delegation and whose seniority has placed him in line for a possible chairmanship on the powerful Senate Courts of Justice Committee.

In the other corner is Republican Vasapoli, 35, a native Arlingtonian and an attorney for the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Vasapoli scores high marks with the Republican and neighborhood organizations in which he has been active.

The 31st District includes all of Arlington County except a small north-central corner. The election is Nov. 3.

Vasapoli has said that Holland violated the spirit of state conflict-of-interest rules by voting on more than 100 bills affecting the banking industry.

In particular, the challenger has singled out Holland's efforts to push through a 1980 bill that lifted the interest rate ceiling banks could charge on home installment loans.

Holland's family founded First Virginia Banks Inc. He owns stock in several banks and is the director and a board member of First Virginia Bank.

According to an April 1987 proxy statement for the bank's annual meeting, Holland controls the largest single share of the bank's stocks held by its directors.

In a recent interview, Holland said that he did not benefit personally from any of his votes and that the 1980 bill benefited the entire banking industry, as well as consumers.

He said Vasapoli's accusations stem from his lack of appreciation for the part-time nature of the Virginia legislature, in which representatives are otherwise employed.

The candidates have raised more money than a race for this seat has ever seen.

But judging by their official campaign contribution statements, neither can claim money pledged for their campaigns as a symbol of broad-based support.

As of the Aug. 31 filing deadline, Holland reported just more than $50,000 in contributions, of which $40,000 came from four companies owned by the Holland family.

Another $3,150 was contributed from organizations representing financial, medical or legal interests.

Holland said he has a $75,000 contribution goal.

Vasapoli raised more than $42,000 and lent himself an additional $9,000 by the Aug. 31 deadline.

About $13,000 was contributed by relatives, former law school friends, colleagues and Asian activists in the Washington area. One of his parents is Korean-born.

He said his target is about $60,000.

Vasapoli, a Democrat until about 10 years ago, graduated from Georgetown University and William and Mary Law School.

He has worked as an associate minority counsel on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce since May 1985.

Vasapoli favors modifying the use of HOV lanes, which he said are inefficient, and creating a small claims court.

He opposes a state lottery and does not favor subsidized housing, except for the elderly.

He favors reducing or eliminating the sales tax on food and drugs.

"Why low-income people should pay for roads in Fairfax when they buy food is a mystery to me," he said.

He is also a member of Arlington's Committee of 100, a delegate to the Arlington Civic Federation and a member and past president of the Fairlington Citizens Association.

"His themes, in many cases, became things the rest of us worked on," said Bob Gray, president of the Fairlington Citizens Association, who described Vasapoli as hard-working and insightful.

"He would diagnose a problem and develop a theme that people could work around."

Holland, who says he is running on his record, has been in the legislature since 1972. His last challenger was a write-in candidate in 1983.

"I'm running because I'm in midcareer," Holland said.

"I feel like what I'm doing is important and I enjoy it."

In a recent interview, Holland said Northern Virginia should get a larger share of state revenue for education.

He said he opposes the lottery and favors creating a small claims court and a commission, which would include citizens, to recommend judicial appointments.

Holland is a general-practice lawyer, with an emphasis on taxation and estate planning law.

He has personal financial interests in banking, real estate and oyster beds.

Holland is noted among his colleagues as a dependable team member whose style is anything but flashy.

"He's very much a Virginian in a traditional, Virginian sense," said Arlington County Board member John G. Milliken, a fellow Democrat.

"He's quiet, understated and very effective in what he does. He doesn't grab headlines, but will knit together the compromise that gets the bills passed."

Holland was a key player in the creation of a Virginia Court of Appeals.

He has sponsored or cosponsored legislation to expand local day care facilities, strengthen the rights of nursing home patients and authorize school districts to suspend teachers charged with sex-related crimes against children.

Holland is a member of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and the Committee of 100, and is a board member of the Salvation Army and the Veterans Memorial YMCA.

His committee assignments in Richmond include courts of justice, commerce and labor, education and health, and transportation.