The body of Leo J. Ryan lies buried in the Golden Gate National Cemetry, but his words, memories and maverick legach are invoked daily by those who seek to inherit his seat in Congress.

Unfortunately for those who value the legacy, however, the campaign for what everyone here still calls "Ryan's seat" has become a bitter and emotional affair dominated by misrepresenation, racial innuendoes and conflicting claims about who is the legitimate political neir of the congressman murdered just hours before the Jonestown massacre.

Vters will pass their judgment Tuesday in a free-for-all special election among five Dmocrats, five Republicans and two minor-party candidates. Unless one candidate wins a majority -- which politicians here say is next to impossible -- there will be a runoff Aprill 3 between the top Democrat and the top Republican.

On the Democratic saide, the race appears to have narrowed to plainspoken San Bruno lawyer George Corey, 45, and Joe Holsinger, 57, who was Ryan's chief aide. The unkown factor is Jacqueline Speaier, Tyan's 28-year-old legislative assistant and protege, who was seriously injured by the fusillade of shots which killed Ryan on the Guyana airstrp last November. tBecause of wounds in her right arm, hip and pelvis, Speier was a late starter in the race. She has been criticized by Holsinger supporters for supposedly trying to convert a tragedy into an opportunity, and has been derided in other quarters as "just a pretty face."

But Speier has proben an able, articulate campaigner with a grasp of issues equalling that of her supposedly more experienced opponents. On the debit side are a lack of money, an amateur and overnatched campaign staff and lack of any real political base in this sprawling suburban district south of San Francisco.

Speier's slogan is "Keep Courage in Congress." Her brochure describes how "Congressman Ryan, with Jackie, was responsible for cutting $50 million out of the foreign assistance budget in 1978."

Holsinger, who once mentioned Ryan's nam 17 times in a 20-minute speech, is running to "continue the good work of Leo Ryan. His campaign material features endorsements from Tyan's mother and divorced wife.

Corey, who might be called the candidate who knew Ryan least, also has tried to cash in on the legacy by saying that he "represented Congressman Ryan." Holsinger says Corey is attempting to mislead voters into thinking he was Ryan's lawyer.

Ironically, in the days, after Ryan's death, Holsinger gave Corey an opportunity to forge a posthumous association with the congressman by asking Corey to take calls from reporters. Press accounts subsequently labeled Corey "a close family friend." It has turned out to be a welcome, if inaccurate, description.

Most politicians here had expected a somewhat sentimental campaign in which the candidates would exaggerate their own relationships with Ryan. What they had not anticipated was that presumed frontunner Holsinger would decide to attack his two chiefs rivals directly.

In interviews and his brochure, Holsinger claims that Cory is "the political machine candidate" supported by Rep. Phillip Burton, an influential figure in northern California Democratic politics.

Holsinger also alleges that Corey is the preferred candidate of the Arab-American lobby, which solicited contributions to him in its national newsletter.

Holsinger observed that Corey's family name used to be "Khourr," a Syrian word meaning "priest." Corey says that the name was changed by U.S. immigration officials when his father came to this country in 1916 and complains that Holsinger "is trying to make me out as some S.O.B. in a turban." Less than $5,000 of his campaign money has come from Arab Americans, says Corey, and most of this was from family and friends.

Corey's committee includes several prominent Jews, and his strategists were at first incensed by the charge. Now they have turned to ridiculing it, as they did at a recent fundraising dinner attended by Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Grown Jr. In the middle of the dinner Corey was called away by a mock telephone message from "one of your wives is waiting outside on a camel."

Holsinger also has been highly critical of Speier, whom he sees as the spolier who could take votes away from him and make it possible for Corey to win. His brochure describes her as "Young, clever and ambitous" and suggests she is trying to convert sympathy for her Guyana wounds into support for an office for which she lacks experience.

As a result of these attacks and his endless invocation of Ryan, Holsinger has become the least-favorite opponent of the other candidates.

Corey, apart from his mention of Ryan on the brochure, has foreged his own trails. While other candidates rely on driect mail, precinct work and telephone banks, Corey has used a catchy television campaign that emphasizes "old values" and is frankly aimed at the district's more conservative voters.

His campaign has been so conservative, acknowledges one Corey startegist, that the candidate could be mistaken for a Republican -- or at least for a disciple of budget-cutting Democratic Gov. Brown.

If Corey wins, the difference is likely to be his television ads in a race where his opponents have used almost none. This, in turn, reflects Corey's far better financing. He will spend $200,000, including at least $76,000 of his own money, giving him a 3-1 financial edge over Holsinger and an 8-1 edge over Speier.

On the Republican side, the over-whelmingly favorite is San Mateo County Supervisor Bill Royer, 57. In the friendship of Hall of Fame baseball player Willie Mays, Royer has a fund-raising attraction that no other candidate in either party can match. He is rated a formidable opponent in the runoff.