"Would you fight and die for New Jersey?" In the heat of a gubernatorial campaign featuring 17 contenders, only Ben Ellard is asking that question.

"New York and Pennslyvania have pushed us around for so long," Ellard says. "We are not going to take it anymore. The first thing New Jersey needs is a fighting navy."

In addition to his truculent attitude toward New Jersey's neighbors, Ellard has a couple of suggestions on how his state can end its financials woes.

He's for legalized usury. "Overnight Jersey City could become the banking capital of the nation - if not the world - and its problems would be a thing of the past," he says. "After all, if we can legalize one crime [gambling] to benefit Atlantic City, why not other crimes for other cities?"

Obviously, Ellard is something new even for a state in which the broad field of candidates includes Chauncey Upstart": John F. Donato, who wants to "ax the [income] tax"; Bill Gahres, who is flying the "right to die" banner, and John Patrick Gallagher, who supports "common-sense government."

But, unlike some candidates, Ellard knows where to stop a joke.

Ellard said last week that some friends wanted him to put his name on the ballot. "But if you go too far this thing could become unfunny," he said.

He is a Ridgefield Park, N.J., salesman who has used the nom de plume Ben Ellard since 1973. He doesn't use his real name because he wants to protect his wife and children.

How much campaigning is Ellard going to do? "I've spent $50 already. I'm working on one campaign newsletter and that will be it," he said.

For his $50 Ellard had 100 copies of a brochure detailing his platform printed and mailed to newspapers throughout New Jersey and the nation. they have attracted considerable media attention.

Ellard also sent copies to Gov. Brendan T. Byrne and Republican Raymond Batemen. the brochure sent to Batemen was accompied by a note asking him to drop out of the race and promising that in return he would have a job in an Ellard administration.

Ellard hasn't heard from either of the major candidates personally, but a Byrne aide called him recently to ask if he would do some volunteer work in the governor's campaign.

Ellard may not be a politician, but he's watched politicians pretty closely. He brochure contains "The Ben Ellard Story," which reveals that he told his mother one day before his second birthday. "I'm going to be governor."

The biography says he trained for the job by getting his first suit from Robert Hall when he was 3, and "by the time he was 5 he knew enough to take his suit jacket off and sling it over his shoulder whenever he saw a photographer."

Some of Ellard's programs are useful only for New Jersey, but others could have wider application.

On the New jersey symphony orchestra. Ellard asks, "Why compete with New York and Philadelphia on their terms? Why a battle of orchestras? Why not subsidize native culture like drum and bugle corps, camper murals or lawn ornaments?

On religious freedom, Ellard says he's for it, "but I understand there is a group that worships the Pulaski Skyway. These people must be stop ped before they hurt themselves."

Ellard scorns the right-turn-on-red policy as a halfway measure. He has built his energy program around the "straight-through-on-red." Ellard explains: "this proposal will save lots more fuel than the current right-turn-on-red policy."

Ellard describes himself as having become known "as the defender of the marginally reputable."

His first political effort has also added a nice question to the increasingly complicated politics of New Jersey and perhaps other states.

With 17 candidates listed on the ballot, it seems fair to ask how the voters can tell pure jokesters such as Ellard from those who seem jokes to some but take themselves seriously? And if Ellard fears becoming unfunny by pushing his joke too far, why [WORLD ILLEGIBLE] many others unafraid?