CONDOLENCES to all diligent Fairfax County voters who are trying to endure what may become the longest no-love-lost campaign for public office in recent memory. For those who are brave enough to count the days, there are still nearly four full months left in the race between incumbent John F. Herrity and challenger Audrey Moore for chairman of the county board of supervisors. And if you believe that stuff about how time has a way of healing, you'd best check back in mid-October for a civility test of the candidates' debates; they're expecting a heat wave. The trigger words that are used most are 1) "development" and 2) "growth." How they are defined, now and in those months ahead, could spell the difference between a winner and a loser -- or between two losers, depending on how you look at this contest.

The politically fashionable stance for either candidate, of course, is to be in favor of "orderly" or "moderate" or "rational" growth. "Development" as used in this Jargon of the Middle Ground is now considered to be the underpinning of life as it is known in the county: it was all right to a point, and that point has been reached. If you are Mrs. Moore, you now bristle at any portrayal of your past voting record as being opposed to development -- development, that is, in the context of what has delivered prosperity and amenities to the county. If you are Mr. Herrity, you play down the ardor of your relationship to economic development in bygone days and concentrate on how to protect the solid tax base, generally good government services and whatever else has flourished.

In point of fact, "development" as anybody has known it in Fairfax is at this point pretty much done or in the making. The question is how best to improve transportation -- through cooperative financing ventures that have, and should continue to have, substantial support from private businesses. That job will require political savvy and realism, an ability to work with big businesses as well as smaller job-holders and solid experience in dealing with the issues and citizens' groups of every district in the county.

Fairfax voters deserve a campaign that addresses what's ahead and what practical steps can be taken -- in good partnership with state, local and private interests -- to capitalize on the county's strengths. Four months is more than enough time for that to happen.