No two members of Congress are less alike than Reps. Guy Vander Jagt (R-Mich.) and Vic Fazio (D-Calif.), chosen earlier this month to lead their parties in what promises to be an epic 1992 congressional campaign.

Vander Jagt, 59, a preacher and a lawyer, better known for his oratory on the national speaking circuit than his influence inside the House, has been futilely trying to overcome the Democratic margins in the House of Representatives ever since he was elected chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) following the GOP shellacking of 1974.

Fazio, 48, a journalist-turned-politician, has worked anonymously on the "scut work" of Congress -- handling such hot potatoes as the lawmakers' own pay raises. He was just picked to head the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) for the first time.

But the rivals have one thing in common: Just when they ought to be donning their armor for battle, they are instead trying to pawn their swords for cash.

After years of the Republicans' targeting 1992 as the year they might finally break the Democratic stranglehold on the House and the Democrats' bracing themselves to repulse the charge, the showdown is at hand and, embarrassingly,

both parties find themselves dead broke.

Facing a debt of at least $2.5 million and with contributions drying to a trickle, Vander Jagt and his co-chairman, political consultant Edward J. Rollins, recently gave layoff notices to about 50 members of the staff of the NRCC. Fazio, inheriting a debt of similar size and a similarly thin trickle of donations, told everyone on the DCCC staff to submit a resignation effective Dec. 31, making it plain that few of them would have jobs in January.

Last week Fazio named veteran campaign strategist Les Francis as the new executive director of the DCCC. Francis, 47, is a former Carter White House aide and executive director of the Democratic National Committee.

Fazio, Francis and Rollins have been matching wits -- and learning to respect the others' political acumen -- since their early days in California Assembly politics. Now they find themselves matched against each other in a battle in which all of them agree the stakes have never been higher for their parties.

Reapportionment and redistricting are expected to create several dozen seats with no incumbent. The number of open seats will be swelled by voluntary retirements among the 166 senior members who have $41.2 million in campaign accounts they can convert to their personal use, if they quit rather than seek reelection in 1992. Those funds, averaging $250,000 apiece, may be used only for campaign purposes after 1992.

Beyond the open seats, virtually every member of the House will find his or her constituency and territory altered by redistricting -- decreasing their security in many instances and increasing their demands for help.

The financial pressures, as well as the pressure to win, on Fazio, Vander Jagt and Rollins are enhanced because 1992 also is a presidential election year and a year in which control of the Senate is on the line.

Vander Jagt, who had to survive a stiff challenge from Rep. Don Sundquist (R-Tenn.) to gain reelection to his ninth term in the NRCC job, acknowledges he has run out of excuses for Republican performance. Having boasted that he would win "76 {seats} in '76," when he actually lost one seat, Vander Jagt now calls himself "a sadder but wiser man."

"We have to make a substantial gain in 1992," he said. "This is probably our last chance in this century. Anything short of a double-digit gain will not be successful."

With the Democrats holding a 100-seat majority, reducing that majority by one-fifth would seem the minimum that would keep Vander Jagt in the chairmanship

and justify Rollins's reported

$250,000 annual salary, analysts said.

"No question," Rollins said, "it's the biggest challenge this committee has ever faced. There may be 70 or 80 open seats and, with redistricting, as many as 100 competitive seats. We'll never have a better shot."

Central to the Vander Jagt-Rollins strategy is the hope that the anti-incumbent sentiment that slashed victory margins for so many House members of both parties (including Vander Jagt) this November will be around in 1992.

"We believe the anti-incumbent wave will continue," Vander Jagt said. "We think it's a slow-baking oven, not a microwave. The challenge for us is to take the wave of disgust with Congress and convert it into a wave of disgust with the people who have managed Congress for 36 years: the Democrats."

To Fazio, such talk translates into the prospect that the Republicans will employ what he calls "a scorched-earth policy" in the 1992 campaign. "The more frustrated they are {by persistent Democratic majorities}, the more dangerous they become. They'll attack the institution of Congress at every possible opportunity."

Staff researcher Bruce Brown contributed to this report.