As Republican Terry Kohler tells it, the governor's contest "is a classic race between a left-wing liberal and an economic conservative."

Kohler, a feisty corporate executive whose father and grandfather were Wisconsin governors, is the conservative. His opponent is the equally feisty Tony Earl, who says proudly:

"I don't shy away from being called a liberal Democrat. The people of Wisconsin are ready to make a change because they think elections of Republican Gov. Lee S. Dreyfus and Reagan were mistakes that they don't want to make again."

Earl, 47, has spent most of his adult life as a city attorney, county attorney, state Assembly majority leader, state secretary of administration and secretary of natural resources. He is running as a true believer in government who virtually pledges to raise income taxes.

Kohler, 48, has never held public office. He is running as a private businessman who can create "jobs for Wisconsin." He claims the state's economic problems work to his advantage because he has a track record in producing jobs as chairman of Vollrath Co., a family-owned manufacturer of kitchen and hospital equipment.

But this has not been a good fall for Kohler:

His "jobs for Wisconsin" campaign received a blow when it was revealed that most of the jobs Vollrath has created in recent years have been in Tennessee and Alabama and that the company is considering opening a new plant in Mexico.

With a large media entourage, Kohler tried to crash the state AFL-CIO convention in LaCrosse in an attempt to woo labor support. Not only was he not allowed to speak, he was ushered from the hall after state AFL-CIO Chairman Johnny Schmitt told him: "Get the hell out of here. This isn't a right-to-work meeting."

A statewide poll by the Milwaukee Sentinel last week showed Earl leading by 55 to 32 percent.