Many political observers expected the race for the 34th District Senate seat in Northern Virginia to become a heated, nasty contest filled with negative advertising fueled by enormous amounts of money on both sides.

It has.

Recently, incumbent Republican Jane H. Woods and Democratic challenger Leslie L. Byrne have launched attacks and counterattacks in press releases, mailings and television advertisements.

With more than $650,000 to spend between them, Woods and Byrne have used words such as "pathetic," "sad," "liar" and "hypocrite" to describe each other. In the frantic search for votes, each has accused the other of misrepresenting records.

The attacks have centered on transportation funding and crime, two subjects the candidates believe are vital to the district's 85,000 voters. Whether the attack ads will compel those voters in a particular direction Tuesday is an open question.

But they continue--each one more urgent than the next. Consider:

* A mailing by Byrne features dramatic pictures of the scenes of school killings: Pearl, Miss.; Littleton, Colo.; Jonesboro, Ark.; Paducah, Ky.; and Springfield, Ore. A headline announces: "CEASE FIRE" and then the mailing suggests that Woods has pandered to the National Rifle Association while the violence continues.

A few days later, Byrne sent out another mailing, suggesting that Woods had been soft on crime by failing to help keep guns out of the hands of children. Byrne has made gun control a centerpiece of her campaign, attacking Woods every chance she gets.

Woods countered by saying Byrne has a "pathetic record on crime," noting that Byrne, during her one term in Congress, voted to end the death penalty when she supported President Clinton's 1994 crime bill.

"I am outraged that Mrs. Byrne is using these kinds of scare tactics to try to win votes," Woods said.

* A mailing by Woods sports a picture of gridlocked traffic. A headline proclaims: "Northern Virginia's Problem . . . " then attacks Byrne for voting to remove $200 million from the state's transportation trust fund when Byrne was a state delegate in 1991.

"Don't send Leslie Byrne back to Richmond to burn us again," the flier reads.

Byrne responded quickly, accusing Woods of "utter disrespect for the truth and legislative process." Her vote in 1991, she said, was a vote to balance the state's budget during a fiscal crisis.

* In another mailing, Byrne attacked Woods on transportation, sending out a manila envelope to voters labeled "Jane Woods: Traffic and Transp. Record." Inside there is nothing but a yellow Post-it note that says: "After a decade in Richmond, Jane Woods has not introduced a single bill to address Fairfax's traffic crisis."

In an open letter to her constituents, Woods said the Byrne mailing is full of "false campaign claims." She said she has introduced three bills dealing with Fairfax traffic problems and was part of the legislative delegation that brought $335 million to Northern Virginia for traffic improvements.

Fueling the war of words is money, much of it from the national Democratic and Republican parties, which view the race as critical.

According to campaign finance reports filed Oct. 15, Woods had raised $423,134, adding almost $80,000 in September. Much of her money has come from the National Republican Campaign Committee, run by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (Va.).

Byrne had raised $214,292 by the Oct. 15 filings--largely from labor unions and the national Democratic Party.

The third candidate in the race, independent Virginia T. Dobey, has raised very little money. A conservative antiabortion candidate, Dobey has attacked Woods for being a Democrat in Republican clothing, but she has had little money to pay for the kind of mass mailings and advertisements that Woods and Byrne have issued.

For voters, the money--and the attack advertisements they pay for--are the most obvious part of the campaign. But Byrne, Woods and Dobey also have been hitting the civic circuit, taking their differing messages directly to the voters.

At a recent debate, the three candidates offered differing answers to questions about traffic congestion, education, environmental laws and gun laws.

Byrne attacked the state government's environmental record, saying Republicans in the state have "swept under the rug" serious violations, while Woods defended state standards as "stringent." Dobey said the greatest environmental threat comes from overdevelopment in the area.

The three also differed in their assessment of the state's Standards of Learning exams.

Woods said it is appropriate that scores of students of English as a Second Language won't count for five years. Dobey said the tests don't account for students who don't test well. And Byrne said the SOLs were a bad idea altogether.

DISTRICT 34: State Senate

Leslie L. Byrne (D)

Age: 53.

Residence: Falls Church.

Education: Attended University of Utah and Mount Vernon College.

Occupation: Chief operating officer, Byrne and Associates.

Elected offices/civic activities: Former director, White House Office of Consumer Affairs; former member, Virginia House of Delegates; former member, U.S. House of Representatives; former president, Fairfax Area League of Women Voters; former legislative director, Fairfax County PTA.

Family: Married; two children.

Why should the voters elect you?

"If you believe that Virginia has not faced up to its responsibilities on transportation, education and gun safety, then I am the candidate in this race who has the proven ability to deliver. We need leaders in the Virginia Senate to constructively address gridlock; 15,000 Fairfax children in trailers instead of classrooms; and closing the loopholes in Virginia's gun laws. Truck safety and rail alternatives must be part of any transportation improvements. Lottery proceeds must be permanently dedicated to school construction. We must ban the purchase of rifles and shotguns by children and punish those who sell guns to kids."

What would you like voters to know about you?

"I take on special interests and win. I forced trucks to cover their loads. I secured the first federal money for rail to Dulles."

Web site: www.lesliebyrne.org

E-mail address: byrneles@aol.com

Virginia T. Dobey (I)

Age: 44.

Residence: Fairfax City.

Education: BA, DePaul University; MS, Naval Postgraduate School.

Occupation: Information engineer, Acton Burnel Inc.

Elected offices/civic activities: Former oceanographer, U.S. Navy; former commander, U.S. Naval Reserve; former coordinator, Special Olympics; member, Old Lee Hills Neighborhood Civic Association.

Family: Married.

Why should the voters elect you?

"I am a trained environmental scientist with a strong background in transportation and urban land-use planning. I am an independent thinker--I get to the core of issues instead of getting lost in side issues. From my years as a naval officer, I have proven that I can 'get the job done, and get it done well.' In my high-tech civilian job, I have proven that I can find solutions that 'everybody can live with.' I bring fundamental beliefs in freedom, faith and family to my campaign and promise no less to my constituents."

What would you like voters to know about you?

"Because my mother-in-law lives with us, I know firsthand the problems our seniors face. Having 35 nieces and nephews, I understanding families."

Web site: www.dobey4senate.org

E-mail address: dobey4senate@compuserve.com

Jane H. Woods (R)*

Age: 53.

Residence: Fairfax City.

Education: BA, American University.

Occupation: Former public school teacher.

Elected offices/civic activities: State senator (since 1992); former member, Virginia House of Delegates; board member and government counselor, Virginia Girls State; former citizen of the year, Annandale and Central Fairfax chambers of commerce.

Family: Married; three stepchildren.

Why should the voters elect you?

"As your senator, I have a solid record of achievement during my two terms. Last year I secured nearly $30 million in additional funding for Fairfax public school classrooms. As chairman of the Senate Education and Health Committee, I will continue to fight for more dollars for classrooms, better choices and more accessible health care--especially for our most fragile citizens--as well as real solutions for transportation problems. I will continue my efforts to ensure that your tax dollars are being spent wisely. The tax burden on our families is already too great."

What would you like voters to know about you?

"I have served for over three decades, first as a public school teacher for nearly 20 years and then in the General Assembly for 12 years."

Web site: www.senatorjanewoods.org

E-mail address: jane@senatorjanewoods.org