It looks as if Mississippi state Auditor Ray Mabus will break tradition in Tuesday's runoff and become the first primary leader in 24 years to win the state Democratic nomination for governor, despite a nearly $1 million advertising campaign by opponent Michael Sturdivant.

Mabus, 38, led the eight-man field in the primary Aug. 4 by 21 percentage points. Sturdivant, 59, was second with 16 percent.

The winner will face Tupelo businessman Jack Reed, who easily won the Republican primary.

While education, including a hefty pay raise for teachers, and economic development have been the favorite campaign issues, the candidates' personal backgrounds and qualifications have emerged as dominant factors.

The boyish-looking Mabus, who won his first statewide office in 1983, has stressed his stand on education and his battle to rid the state of corrupt politicians. As an aide to then-governor William F. Winter (D), Mabus was a key architect of the state's 1982 Education Reform Act. Sturdivant has acknowledged that Mabus is "intelligent and sharp," but says, "He's just starting out."

Sturdivant, who has often referred to his opponent's age, maintains that his business experience makes him better prepared for the governor's office. Sturdivant, whose company owns and runs hotels in five southern states, said he has 1,700 employes and has helped to "create thousands of jobs, and the score for Mr. Mabus is a big fat goose egg."

Within hours of the first primary, Mabus called for a ban on negative advertising, and Sturdivant launched a television and radio assault on the Mabus campaign.

He accused Mabus of being tied to Wall Street and called on the state auditor to "give them back their money. Cut the strings."

A Mason-Dixon poll last week showed Mabus leading, 55 percent to 31 percent.