The right wing of the Fairfax County Republican Party is making the usually innocuous elections for the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District an ideological and partisan battleground.

Fairfax County voters will choose three directors for the Conservation District's board from among four candidates listed on the Nov. 6 ballot. Three of the candidates are incumbents seeking election to another three-year term, and the fourth is a political newcomer who has galvanized support from the Republican right.

In Virginia, conservation districts administer programs and regulations on erosion, flood prevention, drainage, pollution and other soil and water matters. Directors, who are not paid, hold meetings once a month. The district boards traditionally are non-partisan, and candidates are listed on election ballots without reference to party affiliation.

The rhetoric this election season in Fairfax, however, is far from apolitical as conservatives have rallied to support David C. Ray, 27, a research analyst whose re'sume' appears long on Republican Party work but short on environmental and conservation credentials.

"There is no better time for conservatives to take control of the Conservation Board," said a Ray fund-raising letter sent out by former three-term Michigan congressman Mark D. Siljander, a Republican, now a Fairfax resident. Siljander lost his House seat in a Republican primary battle after urging ministers in his district to "break the back of Satan" by supporting him.

"The Democrats are using the growing environmental awareness to lobby for more and more inefficient, wasteful government spending, and higher and higher taxes to pay for it," said the letter. "Do you want yet another liberal Democrat on the Conservation Board?"

Other notable conservatives backing Ray's election bid, according to campaign fliers, include Benton K. Partin, the ultra-conservative former chairman of the county GOP; the Fairfax and Arlington County Young Republicans; Lloyd Thoburn, headmaster of the Fairfax Christian School; former Board of Supervisors chairman John F. Herrity, and Eugene A. Delgaudio, an antiabortion activist who was Pat Robertson's Fairfax coordinator in the last presidential campaign.

Siljander's letter generated controversy even within the Fairfax Republican Committee, which traditionally has been wracked by in-fighting between moderates and conservatives.

"The far right has not been able to win any elections conventionally, so now they're trying one that's so low-key, if one party endorses and the other doesn't, it should be a wipeout," said a GOP leader aligned with the moderate wing of the party.

In an interview, Ray described himself as a "Ronald Reagan, mainstream conservative Republican."

"I hope to bring new ideas and a new perspective to soil and water-type issues. I'm a big supporter of conservation and always have been," he said.

Asked what involvement he has had in soil and water issues, Ray said, "It has been informal rather than formal. I'm not involved in it professionally, but I encourage anyone I know to recycle, not to pollute, to not even drop a gum wrapper on the street."

Ray's candidacy appears to be aimed at unseating three-term incumbent Richard G. Terwilliger, 61, a retired program manager for NASA and the only elected member of the district with ties to the Democratic Party. The other two incumbent candidates are A. Dewey Bond, chairman of the district, and Gloria T. Fisher. Both are Republicans and, along with Ray, have been endorsed by the GOP.

Bond, however, said he strenuously opposed the interjection of party politics into the district elections and wrote letters to the chairmen of the county Democratic and Republican committees earlier this year urging the parties not to endorse candidates. The Democrats complied, Bond said, but his own party did not.

"We're not a liberal or conservative group," Bond said. "We're for conservation and protecting our resources. I don't know what they hope to gain from this."

"If this is perceived as a right-wing Republican or conservative board, I could understand why the Democratic Board of Supervisors might say, 'We don't want to fund this,' " Bond said. "If we stack this deck, what will the Democrats do?"

Bond would not comment on Ray's election bid, but said Terwilliger "is a very good conservationalist and has been an asset to our board." D. Patrick Mullins, chairman of the county Republican committee, said party regulars felt it was important to back a slate of GOP candidates for the district board, even if the board is non-partisan.

"One thing I'm trying to do in the party is bring younger people into a role where we have candidates who are younger running for office. The future of the party depends on that," Mullins said. "I hope this is the start of a long political career for David."

Ray, a 1986 graduate of George Mason University, said he believes that "people who run for any office should let people know where they are politically. I see no reason why a party can't back a candidate."

Terwilliger disagreed.

"The founding fathers of the state's soil and water conservation districts felt it would distort the process and conservation would be bound to suffer by the detrimental interjection of politics into the {district} election process," he said. "I should think it would be very easy to carry it away from the election and into the handling of conservation issues."