The Republican primary for mayor of the District of Columbia offers voters a choice, as they say, not an echo.

On the one hand, you've got candidate E. Brooke Lee Jr., 64, name-dropping kid brother of a former acting governor of Maryland; a man who bills himself as "the world's greatest toilet paper salesman," likens himself to Richard Nixon and lives with his mother in her baronial mansion on Kalorama Road NW.

And on the other, you've got James E. Champagne, 39, a former English teacher, corporate speechwriter, bureaucrat and bartender; an issues-oriented but unemployed idea man who lives with his wife, a night club singer, in an apartment above the One Step Down Lounge.

So why are these two Republicans battling for a nomination that appears inconsequential in a city 78 percent Democratic?

"Because," says Lee, with the crusty bonhomie of the veteran fund-raiser, "this city needs somebody who can sit down as I did today at the Metropolitan Club with people like Elliot Richardson and get things done."

"I don't know," sighs Champagne wryly after a long day. "It must be a hangover from the drugs I took during the '60s."

Some 27,000 of the District's 328,000 registered voters -- roughly 8 percent -- are registered Republicans eligible to cast ballots in the Sept. 14 party primary.

Roughly half of those live in the sprawling upper-income neighborhoods of Ward 3 west of Rock Creek Park in upper Northwest. The bulk of the rest lie in the western precincts of Ward 2, which include Georgetown, Foggy Bottom and the high-rent apartment complexes of Watergate and Columbia Plaza.

Few Republican voters appear galvanized by this primary, which is widely viewed within the party as a throwaway contest. Instead, GOP hopes and finances within the city have been targeted toward the council race in Ward 3, where Lois DeVecchio hopes to succeed veteran Democrat Polly Shackleton, now locked in a potentially divisive primary challenge.

Lee, who says his wealthy family "bought Silver Spring when it was a cornfield," has better name recognition and visibility and far greater financial resources, said one prominent D.C. Republican official. "But," the official added, "Champagne has impressed a lot of people and his campaign is picking up. It's just a shame he has no money or organization."

Actually, Champagne doesn't even have a telephone listed in his name, nor many buttons, stickers or signs. Even his former campaign headquarters at 2124 I St. NW has been vacated -- it was his brother Bernie's apartment and Bernie moved back home to Massachusetts.

"Actually, my problems in this race may have started with Bernie," says Champagne. "He walked in with me to file my petitions and party officials were kind of startled. He has a long beard, an eye patch and he shaves his head. He doesn't look like your average Republican committee member."

In the absence of Bernie, Champagne has hoofed it from office to office and platform to platform, peddling ideas that are long on nuance and short on headlines.

He wants to replace the District's gun control law ("It doesn't work") with one requiring not only mandatory licensing for gun owners, but also training in the care and use of firearms and mandatory criminal penalties for all gun law violators.

He wants all criminal sentences to include periods of solitary confinement.

He would involve parents in education by making their children's school performance a factor in determining the size of the family's welfare payment.

He wants traveling vocational schools to furnish on-the-job training at public housing sites by involving trainees in work on their own dwellings.

He would have businessmen advisers study every line item in the city budget and recommend more efficient methods for the delivery of services.

It may take more than thought-provoking ideas, however, to beat Brooke Lee, a talkative developer and former sales manager for Scott Paper Co., whose campaign posters make him look like Nelson Rockefeller and whose money, name and one-on-one camaraderie appear to have impressed a majority of the 81-member city Republican committee.

The same can't always be said for Lee's oratory and style, which he and some of his supporters describe as "charisma," but which led the biweekly Washington Tribune to refer to him as a "garrulous . . . Mr. Magoo."

"People ask me how I'm going to win in this city," Lee says, "and I tell them 'Listen, my great-great grandfather built Blair House which we gave to the government and which every black king of Africa stays in when he visits this city.' And don't kid yourself, this 'Roots' business means a lot to my black friends. I don't understand it, but there you are."

Lee invokes his illustrious family in almost every speech, steers an interviewer to the Social Register, introduces his cheerful elderly mother ("the first woman voter in this area . . . she launched the battleship Maryland") and shows off a boyhood picture of himself and his elder brother, Blair, former Democratic acting governor of Maryland.

"You'll notice he has a protective arm around me even then . . . I talk to him once every 24 or 48 hours and he tells me what to do . . . "

Lee says the main needs of the District are "more jobs and less crime," which he says he is uniquely qualified to provide.

"To hell with some brave young fellow like Champagne coming in with imagination," Lee says. "Someone's got to sit in that mayor's seat who has the experience . . . who is the . . . president or vice president of other companies. Now, you see, Jimmy's a nice fellow, but he has never been a chief executive of anything . . . He wants to be chief executive of a $2 billion budget . . . Our family's made $25 million . . . This is something that we have managed."

Lee peppers his speech with prominent names "Gwen Cafritz and I . . . " "Old Jim (sic) Watson of IBM" "Tom McKay of Scott Paper Co." and vows his clubby social connections will mean power for Washington.

"They say I'm one of the 10 best salesmen that ever lived in America . . . I say (that at Scott Paper Co.) I was the world's greatest toilet paper salesman . . . and that's what Washington needs--a salesman."

He also speaks often of former President Richard Nixon ("one of the great management minds") and adds: "I like to think we're in the same league."

Lee and Champagne are as different in background as they are in style and age -- Lee the blue-blooded product of prep schools, Princeton and Harvard Business School; Champagne the son of a Northampton, Mass., toothbrush factory foreman, who worked his way through St. Anselm's College as a bartender.

Lee served as a paratrooper during World War II and later went on to Scott Paper and the Lee family business interests. He now heads his own real estate and development firm, and has headed fund-raising efforts for such projects as Greater Southeast Community Hospital.

Champagne taught English in Northampton public schools, history, English and public speaking here at the Sidwell Friends School. He took graduate courses in history at American University and later worked in various research and writing jobs in and out of government, including work in 1973 on the President's Task Force on Trade Reform and at Aerospace Industries Association, American Petroleum Institute and Chrysler Corporation.

Lee has six children and seven grandchildren, and maintains a home in Falmouth, Maine, where his wife Camilla remains, but has been a legal voting resident since last December of his mother's house on Kalorama Road.

Champagne, who has one daughter by an earlier marriage, was married again last July to a night club singer and pianist named Mary Hart, presently appearing in the Fantail Lounge at Stouffer's in Crystal City.

The two candidates speak of each other with the vague exasperation of summer beach visitors swatting sandflies.

Lee, Champagne says in an interview with The Washington Post, is "a clown . . . running for office to prove to his brother he's not the black sheep of the family."

"Slander!" replied Lee in a separate interview. "Harassment! . . . You're talking to a desperate man!"

What's more, Lee says in an accusation he also has made on the campaign trail, friends at Chrysler told him Champagne only worked there "as long as (they) could stand him." Champagne flatly denies that, saying he was laid off with hundreds of other Chrysler workers.

"He's not a very interesting fellow," sighed Lee. "I don't need any story. I've got this thing won."

Lee's campaign phone number rings in the office of Robert N. Pyle Associates, a public relations firm which has churned out for him a snowstorm of mailings targeted to GOP committeemen and registered Republican voters.

He estimates he'll spend maybe $50,000 ("chickenfeed, really . . . but you don't want to look like you're buying the election"), including payments to Charles Fisher, Lee's designated campaign manager and a GOP candidate for City Council in Ward 1.

"He's going to put me in touch with 70 percent of this city," says Lee of Fisher. "Any white candidate in this city without a black manager, that's sheer suicide."

Lee says he has no idea how many Republicans will turn out for the Sept. l4 primary, but says he will carry all eight wards of the city and roughly 75 percent of vote.

Champagne, who looks for a turnout of 12,000 to 15,000, says he has raised and spent about $7,000 on the race so far, "most of it on just plain living."

If he can come up with $2,000 in the next week, he says, he'll send out about 1,200 letters to targeted precincts in Ward 3. If not, "I'll just leaflet by hand to the extent I can."

"Realistically, I've got to figure there are people out there laughing their tails off at me. Pragmatically, I'll probably get my rear end handed to me whether I win the primary or not."