Former interior secretary Walter J. Hickel, campaigning for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, says the race can be summarized "in one four-letter word - hope."

Hickel's main opponent in tomorrow's primary, Republican incombent Jay Hammond, thinks the six-way fight for his job could be described in another four-letter word - "cash."

In either case, Hickel, Hammond and four other veteran politicans in the dogfight hope that what for this thinly populated state is enormous sums of cash, $1.7 million in all spent by their campaigns so far, they will carve out a plurality for themselves when an expected 100,000 voters go to the polls.

The fight between Hammond and former governmor Hickel has dominated the most costly, confusing - and the polls say - close election since Alsaka became a state 20 years ago. Many observers predict the winner of that race will ultimately lead the state into another four years of multibillion-dollar resource extraction and power struggles with the federal government.

If campaign rhetoric is any indication, Alaska's next governor will face problems created chiefly by congressional decisions to build a natural gas pipeline from the rich Prudhoe Bay field and to set aside millions of acres of the state for parks and wilderness areas. More than any other, those two issues - growth and the federal presence in Alaska - have figured in the campaigns.

Hickel, spending at least $545,000 to capture a party nomination he lost to mond in the 1974 primary, has come down hard on both themes. The milionaire businessman has based his campaign on promises to bolster a post-oil-pipeline economy and prevent the federal government from creating large parks on public land.

Hammond's $350,000 capaign has been generally less strident than Hickel's, but the incumbent also has paid homage to a growing resentment among Alaskans of the federal bureaucarcy. Nonetheless, their matchup has been billed by the candidates themselves as a fight between the "boomer" Hickel and the "doomer" Hammond.

Despite their expensive campaigns, however, the two Republicans have not been able to shake the challenge of a third, former state house speaker Tom Fink, a conservative Anchorage insurance salesman.

Fink was generally considered to be the spoiler in the race because he shares much of the same constituency as Hickel in populous Anchorage, where half of tomorrow's expected 100,000 votes will probably be cast.

On the other hand, because of Alaska's open-primary system, Hammond has lost supporters to the apparant leader in the Democratic primary, state Sen. Chancy Croft, a liberal Anchorage lawyer instumental in fashioning many of the state's oil and gas taxes.

Croft and opponents Ed Merdes and Jay Kerttula, colleagues at one time or another in the legislature, are making their first bids for statewide office. In general, they have avoided campaigning against each other, taking moderate stands between Hickel and Hammond instead. Because of that, as well as the vitriolic GOP race, the Democrats figure to attract only one out of every three votes to their side of the ballot.

Thus, with only about 30,000 votes to be split three ways, the winner of the Democratic primary may not be known until election officials count some 7,000 absentee ballots a week after the primary.

Another crowded race facing voters is a 13-way fight for lieutenant governor.

Senate assistant minority leader Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young, both Republicans, face no opposition in the primary.

The campaign, featuring such novelties as the first statewide live television debates between gubernatorial candidates, has been front-page news here since last fall, when Hammond and Hickel first began campaigning.

By comparison, when campaign spending limitations were in effect four years ago, Hammond spent only $48,000 to defeat Hickel and the contest was far less intense. The limits were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1976.