Tough races for supervisor in four of Fairfax County's magisterial districts are offering voters clear choices, and Republicans have said they have a fighting chance of breaking the Democratic majority's 6-4 hold on the 10-member Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

In six races, including the contest for board chairman, there is little or no competition for the incumbents. Five supervisors are unopposed, and board Chairman Katherine K. "Kate" Hanley (D) does not have a Republican opponent. She does, however, faces challenges from an anti-tax activist, a Libertarian and another independent.

Four other supervisors have serious opposition.

In the Mason District, a popular incumbent Democrat faces a strong challenge from a Republican who once served on the board. In Dranesville and in Hunter Mill, two GOP incumbents are facing strong challenges. And in the Lee District, a Democratic incumbent is grappling with a Republican political newcomer. The challengers to the last three incumbents have accused them of being unresponsive on growth issues.

Supervisors from Mount Vernon, Providence, Braddock, Sully and Springfield face no opposition. Sully District School Board member Gary A. Reese (I) is running unopposed, as are Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. (D) and Clerk of Court John T. Frey (R).

The strong economy, which has cut unemployment dramatically, and a low crime rate have given the few challengers little grist for their political mills.

Still, there are some races that present a choice to the county's voters.

Democrat Stanley G. Barry, a former sheriff's deputy, is challenging Republican Carl R. Peed for the top spot in the department, a fight that has been nasty from the beginning. Peed fired Barry when he learned the younger deputy was going to challenge him.

Barry has accused Peed of mishandling the county's jail, allowing prisoners to escape. And he is critical of Peed's management of sheriff's department finances. Peed responds that Barry is far too inexperienced to run the 455-employee department.

In races for the School Board, candidates have focused on the problems of school crowding and offered different approaches to solving what some call a crisis.

Voters also will decide whether to approve a $297.2 million school bond, which would allow the county to build schools and renovate old ones.

Here's a closer look at the races for the Board of Supervisors:

The Chairman's Race

Although he's running for Board of Supervisors chairman--and not for the School Board--Arthur G. Purves (I) is on a mission to completely overhaul the way schools are run in Fairfax County, starting with a return to the classroom of school prayer, the Ten Commandments and phonics-based reading.

Combine that with the elimination of sex education and teaching that the theory of evolution is bunk, and you'll have a school system worth sending your children to, Purves argues passionately.

Purves, who lost a bid for School Board last election season, has turned his sights to the top-elected job in the county. In his attempt to oust Hanley, however, he has not lost his focus.

"You need somebody at the Board of Supervisors who will hold the School Board accountable," said Purves, who has raised virtually no money in his campaign. "You have to start repairing the social damage our schools are doing."

Purves, president of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance, also has hammered Hanley on taxes, pointing to the 7-cent real estate tax rate increase that Hanley supported in 1996 as evidence that she's unwilling to address real issues.

"Kate Hanley's record is crowded schools, crowded roads and higher taxes," Purves said. "What are Kate Hanley's proposals for solving these problems?"

Hanley, who has served as chairman for five years, points to the county's good economic condition. She said she has led the effort to cut the county's deficit during the last three years.

"In this term, we have our financial house in order," she said. "Working with the board, who have pulled together to reinvest in infrastructure, we've accomplished a great deal."

Hanley said she also has focused on education and transportation during her tenure.

"We increased the percentage of the budget that went to education," Hanley said. "Under my leadership, Fairfax County has cut costs, streamlined operations and is using technology to create a flexible government."

She also notes that many of the school-related issues raised by Purves are the responsibility of the elected School Board, not the Board of Supervisors. If Purves wants to affect education policy, he should run for that panel again, she said.

In addition to Purves, Hanley faces two other candidates: Paul E. Gagnon, a Libertarian, and C.W. 'Levi' Levy, an independent who also is entered in a school board and two General Assembly races. The Republican Party declined to run anyone against her this year, citing the good economic times and the need to raise $500,000 as barriers.

The Dranesville Race

There is a competition to represent the Dranesville District this year for one reason: Evans Farm.

A decision by the beloved farm's owner to sell the land to a developer galvanized a small segment of the McLean community. Barbara H. Phillips (D), the wife of a former supervisor, said she was drafted to challenge Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn (R) largely by that outraged community.

But Phillips said the race is about more than Evans Farm.

"Evans Farm was a spark that lit the fire," Phillips said. "That made me begin to truly look at what was going on, and I was appalled."

Phillips argues that Fairfax supervisors--and Mendelsohn in particular--have done a poor job when it comes to managing growth. She says a complete overhaul of the county's comprehensive plan is needed and advocates asking the legislature for more county power to control growth.

"He's done nothing," she said of Mendelsohn. "There has been no initiative on his part to be an advocate for the citizens. He has assisted the developers."

Mendelsohn defends his record on growth, saying he has sponsored county ordinances aimed at preserving tree cover when development occurs and has preserved more than 50 acres of open space in his district. He supported initial community efforts to save Evans Farm, though he ultimately argued that the county could not step in to prevent the sale.

Mendelsohn said his work to stop unsightly cellular telephone towers from being erected in his community, to fund extension of Metrorail to Tysons Corner and Dulles and to revitalize downtown McLean should be enough to send him back to office for a second term.

"What this really is about is that my opponent has not been active at all in the community for 15 years," he said. "I've got a long list of results that have been achieved by working for this community. When you are hiring someone to run a $2 billion government, you can't afford to have on-the-job training."

The Hunter Mill Race

In the Hunter Mill District, Supervisor Robert B. Dix Jr. (R) faces a three-way race.

Democrat Catherine M. Hudgins, a former aide to Hanley, started her campaign avoiding any mention of Dix, preferring to focus on the need for better planning when it comes to construction of roads and office buildings.

Hudgins argues that residents want more involvement in the process that is turning the Dulles Corridor into the hottest commercial market in the area. And she said residents want real solutions to the traffic gridlock that all of the new office buildings are creating.

But lately, Hudgins has begun to talk about what she says are Dix's shortcomings. She says he has not been a full-time supervisor and has not done all he could to manage growth in the Hunter Mill area.

"The performance during the last eight years has not met the high standards of representation," she said. "When you allow growth to go rampant with the loss of trees and open space, you are not committed to a planned and sensible growth. You are committed to a pro-growth agenda."

Dix's other opponent, John M. Thoburn (I), has attacked him from the other direction--criticizing Dix at every opportunity for stopping Thoburn's plans to build a miniature golf park on land near the Dulles Toll Road.

Thoburn talks about other issues, including the pace of growth in the district and tax breaks Dix supported for a corporation in Tysons Corner. But he comes back to the golf park issue again and again. On his Web site, Thoburn attacks Dix for treating his project unfairly.

"This is primarily a race on Bob's record and holding him accountable," Thoburn said.

For his part, Dix calls Thoburn "a liar" and has accused him of running a vindictive campaign.

"I find it regrettable that any candidate resorts to gutter tactics as a means to attack political opponents," Dix said. "Mr. Thoburn's conduct is full of lies and misrepresentation."

He has accused Thoburn of running only as an act of revenge for not getting his way.

Dix also dismisses Hudgins, saying voters will return him to office because he's worked hard to improve their quality of life.

The Mason Race

In one of the more closely watched races in Fairfax, Democratic incumbent Penelope A. "Penny" Gross is facing a tough challenge from former supervisor Christine R. "Tina" Trapnell for the Mason District seat.

Trapnell, a Republican, is hoping to reclaim the seat she gave up in 1995 after serving one term and to help the GOP wrest control from the Democrats, who hold a 6 to 4 majority.

The district comprises the easternmost part of Fairfax bordering Arlington County and the communities of Baileys Crossroads and Seven Corners as well as Lake Barcroft and Camelot. Stephen L. Lawrence, a bus driver, is running as an independent.

Both Trapnell and Gross describe themselves as fiscally conservative but socially moderate. Gross voted against a pay increase for supervisors, while Trapnell has pledged to hold the line on taxes.

Both are running on their records for constituent services, saying they would be more responsive to residents' concerns, including how to respond to an influx of immigrants to older neighborhoods.

Trapnell, who had retired in 1995 citing family commitments, said Gross has not been responsive to complaints from longtime residents about newcomers who break zoning laws and has pledged to work for stronger enforcement. At the same time, Trapnell said she wants to help non-English speaking immigrants adjust to life in Fairfax.

Gross refuted the assertion that she has not been responsive to zoning complaints and said her office has responded to all suspected violations and has forwarded them to county officials.

Both are taking credit for renovating the popular George Mason Regional Library on Little River Turnpike. Trapnell said that while in office, she helped speed funding for the renovation, while Gross said she made sure the work was completed early and under budget.

The Lee Race

In the rapidly growing Lee District, which encompasses part of Springfield, Kingstowne and some of the Route 1 corridor, the issues have revolved mostly around growth and traffic.

Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D) said he stands on his record of encouraging the right kind of development for the area, i.e. more job-producing businesses instead of more town houses.

Kauffman said he is proud of plans for a new emergency care center, a medical education campus and office buildings near the Springfield Metro station. He said that is the perfect place for dense development.

"I've worked with the community-based leadership to attract a development that complements the established community," Kauffman said.

Kauffman said he has also worked to preserve trees, build parks and streamline government. He accuses his opponent, Robert M. Jones (R), of holding a grudge because Kauffman refused to support a parks plan for a youth organization.

"People appreciate that I don't play partisan politics and that I work directly with the community to let them decide what's in their interest," Kauffman said.

Jones said he got into the race because Kauffman refused to support a plan to let the Springfield Youth Club, a sports group, repair and use a badly neglected park for soccer and other sports games.

"That was why I got started," Jones said. "But there are a lot more bigger issues."

Jones criticized Kauffman for failing to push for more money to build schools in the district. He said Kauffman should have known that the boom in Kingstowne would lead to crowding.

"We built one new school and it has trailers in back of it," he said. "That's unacceptable."

Jones also said Kauffman's plans for development near the Springfield Metro don't take into account the impact on roads in the area.

"The roads can't handle it," Jones said.

Staff writer Peter Pae contributed to this report.