When Montgomery County voters four years ago approved expanding the County Council from seven to nine members in 1990, they gave new hope to the county's long-excluded Republican Party.

In a system that has favored the Democrats' advantage in voter registration, all seven council members have been elected countywide, although five have been required to live in certain districts. But that will change with the Nov. 6 general election, in which four council members will be elected at large and five will be elected by voters in the districts they will represent. Voters will be able to cast ballots for four at-large candidates and one from their district.

Republicans see the switch to district elections as a chance to use their pockets of strength, particularly in the upcounty and Bethesda-Chevy Chase districts, to break the Democrats' 20-year hold on the council.

Those elected to the $47,423-a-year council posts will face a citizenry concerned with taxes and development as well as a bleak economic outlook that includes grim predictions for a county budget shortfall. Here is a closer look at the 18 candidates competing for the nine County Council seats: At Large

In the race for four at-large seats, three incumbent Democrats hope to be returned to office and a fourth member of their party is looking to join them. Four Republicans vying for the same seats are seeking Democratic crossover votes and hoping to take advantage of the anti-incumbency mood that helped topple County Executive Sidney Kramer in the Democratic primary.

First-term incumbents Bruce T. Adams, 43, of Bethesda, and Isiah Leggett, 45, of Silver Spring, have helped lead the council charge for development taxes. Leggett supports Question F, the proposed charter amendment Adams helped write that would link the property tax rate to inflation. Adams sponsored Montgomery's smoke-free workplace bill, and Leggett was the only council member to vote against the proposed Bethesda-Silver Spring trolley.

Michael L. Subin, 41, another Democrat serving his first council term, criticizes Question F, saying it would "tie the hands" of the council. Subin, a Gaithersburg resident who lists day care and schools as priorities, was a registered Republican until shortly before he sought a council seat, a point that has brought some resentment from activists in both parties.

Democrat Gail Ewing, 45, who made a strong but unsuccessful bid for council in 1986, opposes the trolley and Question F. However, she favors cuts in county spending. Ewing, a public policy/education coordinator for the Alzheimer's Association, was an aide to former council member Esther P. Gelman and stresses health, education and senior citizen issues in her campaign.

Republican George Sauer, 56, a real estate agent from Potomac who made an unsuccessful run for council in 1986 and has headed the Montgomery County Civic Federation, supports Question F and urges ending duplication of services now available from several county agencies.

Republican Richard LaSota, 40, a county teacher from Burtonsville, favors Question F and worked to ally his party with citizens upset by the handling of plans for developing downtown Silver Spring. He wants to eliminate the executive's planning staff and trim the Office of Economic Development.

At 46, Republican John F. Thomas, a Silver Spring architect, is a political newcomer who supports Question F and argues for better management of county money.

Republican Edward R. Shannon, 60, a lawyer from Silver Spring who says he wants to hold down taxes, is running a quiet campaign. He has not been seen at some events that are considered standard in county campaigning.

District 1:

The race to represent this district has been a two-way contest all along. Neither former state delegate Marilyn Goldwater, a Democrat, nor former Planning Board member Betty Ann Krahnke, a Republican, faced primary opposition.

On issues central to the district's constituencies in Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Friendship Heights, Glen Echo, Potomac and Rockville, the two differ: Krahnke supports linking property tax and inflation rates; Goldwater opposes the idea. Krahnke wants a nature trail instead of a trolley line, asserting that express buses could ease traffic on East-West Highway. Goldwater supports the trolley, if state money covers all construction costs.

Krahnke, 48, favors a countywide development tax and says eight years on the Planning Board have given her the expertise she needs to serve on the council. Goldwater, 62, says she is better prepared for handling a variety of council issues because of her experience as a House of Delegates member for 12 years, as a nurse and as a former director of federal relations for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

While Goldwater relies on close ties to her party, including endorsements from both Kramer and County Council member Neal Potter, Krahnke is stressing her endorsement by Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.).

District 2:

Republican Nancy Dacek, a longtime civic activist, and Democrat Vickie York, a real estate agent, seek to represent District 2, which takes in Montgomery's western half.

Both candidates say there is much to keep track of in this sprawling district: Potomac residents' anger over property taxes; Clarksburg residents' concern over a proposed jail; frustration from Germantown, Gaithersburg and Montgomery Village residents over growth and traffic; and the concerns of people in rural Dickerson, Barnesville and Poolesville about plans for the Dickerson incinerator.

Dacek, 56, who in the primary defeated school board member and former Gaithersburg mayor Bruce Goldensohn, is seen as one of her party's best bets to capture a council seat. Though bolstered by the strongest Republican presence in any of the county's districts -- 33,108 Republicans to 39,839 Democrats -- the Potomac resident says she knows victory will require Democratic crossover votes. She has gained support toward that end from a group calling itself "Democrats for Dacek."

York, 34, an upcounty activist emboldened by her primary victory over Del. Judith C. Toth, says her business experience gives her the edge in dealing with growth and an economic slowdown.

York, a member of the county Housing Opportunities Commission who in 1986 lost a bid for mayor of Gaithersburg, said she would consider taxing designated "development districts" and opposes all proposed charter amendments.

Dacek, a former president of the county PTAs, favors the charter proposal tying the property tax rate to inflation, and would support a countywide development tax "if necessary."

District 3

Incumbent William E. Hanna Jr., having staved off a primary challenge, faces former Rockville City Council member Stephen N. Abrams in District 3, which includes northern Potomac and all of Rockville and pushes east to parts of Kensington, Wheaton and Aspen Hill.

An associate administrator at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Abrams, 47, is a lifelong Republican who entered this race as an independent to comply with laws prohibiting federal employees from participating in partisan campaigns. With no Republican in the contest, the county Republican Party has embraced his candidacy.

The often controversial Hanna, 69, Rockville mayor during part of Abrams's City Council tenure, favors the charter amendment linking the property tax rate to inflation, emphasizes his work in affordable housing and supports a special development tax in Shady Grove.

Abrams, who a year ago lost a City Council reelection bid after running unsuccessfully for school board, says he believes county residents are angry at Hanna's notoriously offensive comments. Abrams opposes the charter amendment linking property taxes and inflation.

District 4

School board member Marilyn Praisner and Carol Wallace, a former leader of the county taxpayers league, are vying to represent the northeastern sweep of the county known as District 4, an area seeking solutions to traffic and further controls on growth.

Democrat Praisner, 48, opposes all of the tax and spending ballot questions, and Republican Wallace, 54, favors the measure linking the property tax rate to inflation.

Though calls for slower growth resonate throughout the county, the demands for change are especially strong in this district, which takes in the congested Route 29 corridor and parts of Silver Spring, Olney, Burtonsville and Laytonsville. Praisner urges taxing designated "development districts" and Wallace is pushing a tax on certain new construction that she said would generate revenue and prompt development of low-cost housing.

Praisner comes to the general election after soundly defeating council member Michael L. Gudis in a bitter primary.

District 5

In a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 3 to 1, Silver Spring Democrat Derick P. Berlage admits to a bit of a lull after a primary that saw him spend $50,000 to trounce four challengers.

A lawyer and former legislative representative for Common Cause, Berlage, 34, faces longtime Silver Spring activist Joan Ennis, 63. Ennis left the Democratic Party, saying her views could not be adequately aired in the crowded Democratic primary field.

Unlike Berlage, she favors the proposed amendment linking the property tax rate to inflation but opposes a jail in Clarksburg and what she calls the "gold-plated" Bethesda-Silver Spring trolley.