Gov. Hugh L. Carey and his Republican challenger, Perry Duryea, have taken this year's staples - tax cutting and government spending limitations - added the death penalty and mutual animosity and turned them into a long, expensive, bitter season of politics without joy.

Carey and Duryea don't like each other, and it shows. Neither much likes campaigning, either, yet they are yoked together at rostrums day after day in a series of 16 debates that are a major feature of the closing weeks of the campaign. In between they collect endorsements and travel the state trying to find the votes to put them into the statehouse in what promises to be a close election.

Carey had allowed himself to become such an unpopular governor that he began the political season fighting to come from behind and defeat his lieutenant goveror, Mary Anne Krupask, in the Democratic primary.

Early polls showed that few knew who Duryea was but that many more knew they wanted to vote for him against Carey.

Duryea's campaign has made him better known, but the problem persists. A poll completed two weeks ago by New York City's Channel 2 found a third of all voters and a quarter of those who say they'll vote for Duryea don't know enough about him to discuss his policies.

Duryea remained ahead of the governor despite his lack of name recognition until this month, when polls began showing the two candidates even.

This week, for the first time in the campaign, Carey was shown leading in a poll. The Roger Seasonwein Poll completed Wednesday night showed a startling 8 percentage-point gain by Carey in a single week, giving him an 8-point margin over the Republican Assembly minority leader.

Seasonwein, whose polls have been accurate in past elections, said the shift makes a Carey victory very likely. However, his poll was based on a sample of only 471 voters, and other polls still showed the candidates neck-and-neck.

Duryea's campaign manager, Gary Axenfeld, challenged the Seasonwein finding, which he said was based on a "ludicrously small sampling."

All of the candidates' effort has had less than normal impact on New York voters because of the strike that closed all New York City papers Aug. 9. Although The New York Post has resumed publication, hundreds of thousands of words and hundreds of photographs have gone unpublished.

Two things are certain vote-getters: death and taxes - more death and less taxes.

Carey, should be far ahead. He would be, except for the newspaper strike and the death penalty, one Carey aide said.

Each time they meet, Carey and Duyea swamp each other with conflicting claims on Careys' four-year Albany record on taxes and government spending. David Garth, who is runing Carey's campaign, says that not would Carey have gotten prominent news coverage for moments like Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's (D-Mass.) visit to endorse the governor this week, but The New York Times and Daily News would have sorted out the irreconcilable tax and spending claims and declared where the truth lies.

The New York Post wasted little time after resuming publication in doing just what Garth would like to see all the city papers doing.

There is solid validity in (Carey's) claim that, during his first term, we have begun to turn New York around, overcoming, a legacy of deficits, tax increases, job losses and crime increase." The Post said in an editorial endorsement of Carey.

Carey supporters want New York CIty voters - 1,923,000 of them Democrats and 398,454 of them Republicans - concerned and eager to vote election day.

Duyea has succeeded in blurring the tax issue, obscuring the achievements of the Carey administration, and he has made clear from the start that the two men differ on capital punishment.

Carey opposes capital punishment, and has twice vetoed bills that would have restored the death penalty. Duryea is solidly for capital punishment, and polls show that most Democrats defecting to Duryea are death-penalty proponents.

One of the ugliest moment of a campaign that has moved steadily toward the low road came Thursday, when Carey mixed the death penalty with one of his favorite issues - the low taxes Duryea paid last year as a result of having well-sheltered his wealth.

"I bet my opponent will not in any way support tax avoidance capital punishment," Carey said.

"I might nail your brother," replied Duryea, who often attacks Edward Carey, the head of a larg oil company and a heavy financila supporter of the governor.

Carey's humor, when it appears in public, is slashing. Durea's is heavy-handed. They bludgeon each other with unfunny jibes that leave no doubt of their deep dislike of each other.

Carey was asked by the moderator of one debate what he admires most about Duryea. "I respect the fact Mr. Duryea admits he was once indicted," the governor answered. (the indictment, for a campaign misdemeanor, was dismissed).

When it came Duryea's turn he was gentler. "I respect Mr. Carey for forcusing on a special problem - New York City - but he forgot all the rest of us," Duryea said. (Carey played a vital role in saving the city from bankruptcy.)

But Duryea is capable of worse. After listening to Carey describe what he has done to improve health care at a recent debate, Duryea said: "You certainly are putting health in the mental patients." I an attempt to ease the burden on state facilities, mental patients are living in many older hotels and apartment buildings under minimal supervision, supported by state funds.

Carey's aides expected the series of debates to be a major help to his campaign, but Duryea has held his own in the increasingly rancorous exchanges.

However, Carey's gains in the polls indicate that some of those voters who were so alienated by him because of the death penalty or because he was a governor so seldom seen at the traditional political ribbon-cutting and back-slapping galas or because of his moody, impatient, sometimes sullen demeanor, are more willing to forgive Carey than to vote for Duryea.

Even when campaigning, Carey does not pretend to the likeable. "You don't have to love me to love New York," he says.

"May personality," he responds, when asked to name his biggest liability.

In a city and state where fiscal problems have been a major concern for more than three years, campaign spending is not governed by an austerity program. Carey and Duryea each will spend more than $4 million, making it certain that a dollar will be spent for each of the state's 8,470,770 registered voters.

It's not austerity, but Carey's total will be somewhat less than it cost him to get elected in 1974, when he spent more than $5 million.