"Jobs" won out over the "the environment" in a Seattle special congressional election Tuesday where Republican Jack Cunningham upset Democratic Marvin Durning.

Cunningham, who branded Durning as "an environmental extremist," won 54.2 per cent of the vote, with Durning getting 44.7 per cent and the rest going to minor candidates.

Democrat Brock Adams had won election in the district seven consecutives times before joining President Carter's Cabinet as Secretary of Transportation, and Democrats were heavily favored to keep the seat.

But Republicans mounted an aggressive, expensive campaign on the jobs issue in a district that is the headquarters of the Boeing Co. Durning has been associated with a number of environmental causes, and was depicted as an advocate of limited growth that would lead to unemployment.

A preliminary analysis of the voting returns yesterday showed that this strategy had paid off. Cunningham, 46, a state senator, ran far ahead of Durning in normally Democratic blue-collar precincts of southern Seattle.

In the last week of the campaign Cunningham also mounted a radio attack on President Carter's proposal for an additional gasoline tax, which Durning, 45, a Seattle lawyer, defended.

"I'm Jack Cunningham and I think Durning is wrong on the gas tax, just like he's wrong on environmental extremism," the radio ad said. "The gas tax won't save energy and it will hurt jobs."

Two consecutive political action groups - the National Conservative Political Action Committee and the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress - provided key staff help for Cunningham, as did the Republican National Committee and the GOP Congressional Campaign Committee.

Even so, the results surprised some Republicans as much as they did Durning, who said: "This is really a big shock. I really thought I'd win."

Charles Black, the campaign director for the Republican National Committee, had said he thought Cunningham had a chance if the voter turnout fell below 30 per cent. But 32 per cent of the voters turned out, and Cunningham won handily.

His victory meant that Republican have captured two of the three previously Democratic House seats vacated by Carter's Cabinet-level appointments. The GOP has won 18 of 29 state legislative special elections this year, including 15 seats previously held by Democrats.

Republican National Chairman Bill Brock interpreted this as sign of "a resurgence" by the GOP, which entered the last yeat at its lowest ebb since the Depression.

In other elections Tuesday a 62-year-old Superior Court judge became the first black to be elected mayor of Oakland. Lionel J. Wilson, with the backing of Democratic leaders and organized labor, won 53.5 per cent of the vote in the nonpartisan election. He defeated Dave Tucker, who ran on a law-and-order platform and won 46.4 per cent of the vote.

Oakland's population is 34 per cent black and 48 per cent minority.Democrats heavily outnumber Republicans.

In Pittsburgh the Democratic organization candidate, Thomas Foerster, turned back a challenge from Frank Lucchino to win the party's nomination for mayor. He will face Joseph Cosetti, a Democrat who switched parties to run for the post vacated by Peter Flaherty, now Deputy Attorney General.

Two critics of Mayor Frank Rizzo won Democratic nominations Tuesday in Philadelphia by near 2-to-1 margins.

They were Edward Rendell, who won the district attorney's nomination over incumbent F. Emmett Fitzpatrick, and Controller William Klenk, who defeated Andrew Freeman. Both losers were backed by Rizzo.

Meanwhile, in Oregon, voters rejected, 2-to-1, in initiative that would have changed the tax levy system under which school districts must get budget approval from voters in as many as eight elections a year. The initiative would have established a socalled "safety net" allowing school districts that lost a levy election to impose the previous tax rate plus a 6 per cent increase.

Three Oregon school districts with an enrollment of more than 9,000 were closed last winter because levies were rejected by the voters.