PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ Rhode Island's U.S. Senate race is a study in contrasts and a contest between soulmates. It is a matchup between two very different individuals with very similar voting records.

Democratic Sen. Claiborne Pell is 71. His GOP challenger, Rep. Claudine Schneider, is 43.

Pell is a dignified, soft-spoken man, usually with a rumpled suit draped over his tall, bony frame. Miss Schneider is a zealous, energetic woman given to wearing brightly colored dresses and known more by her first name than her last.

''The ideological differences between them are subtle, if any,'' says Washington analyst Charles Cook.

''Name one member of Congress who's like either one of them,'' Cook said. ''You can't.''

Although intense campaigning won't begin until Labor Day, Pell has the early advantage. He held a 51 percent to 36 percent lead over Miss Schneider in a recent Brown University poll, a lead that has grown since an earlier survey in February. The latest poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Pell also has the edge at the bank. As of June 30, his warchest was double that of Miss Schneider's - $1.3 million to $627,000.

But those numbers could change quickly in a race where both candidates have popularity ratings higher than 80 percent. Neither candidate has any opposition in Rhode Island's Sept. 11 primary.

Even when it comes to the paranormal, there aren't many distinctions between the two candidates. Both have been called a bit eccentric because of their well-publicized affinities for such subjects - Pell for his interest in UFOs and Miss Schneider for hers in astrology.

It is a race where both candidates have pledged to keep themselves out of the negative-campaigning gutter - each has aired commercials that don't mention the other's name.

Last week, Miss Schneider launched the first real offensive of the campaign. But rather than call Pell a liar, she politely asked him to ''correct misleading information'' about a Social Security proposal.

Nor does she have a monopoly on manners. Pell ordered his campaign manager, Mary Beth Cahill, to call Miss Schneider's campaign to inform them that his first commercial would be airing the next day.

''I was stunned,'' said Ellen Conaway, Miss Schneider's campaign manager. ''In all my years in the business I've never seen anyone telegraph their moves like that.''

''I expect as positive a campaign as both of us can wage. I know it will be on my side,'' Pell said. ''I've always sought to talk about my own plans, not to mention or be critical of my adversary. Except for correcting my record, I would not want to go negative myself.''

Miss Schneider's challenge is to attract Democratic votes in a heavily Democratic state. She has done it in the past, but not against Pell.

''After 10 years in the House,'' she told a meeting of Pawtucket Rotarians recently, ''I am of the opinion that if I can't be in a position of greater power ... I do not want to remain in public service.''

The senator's camp believes Miss Schneider can't give voters a good reason to make the switch.

Voters hoping to find some clarity in the candidates' voting records are out of luck. Miss Schneider, long considered a GOP maverick, voted against President Bush more often than did Pell.

Pell supported Bush's position 51 times in 1989 and opposed the White House 48 times, according to the Providence Business News. Miss Schneider voted with the administration 38 times, and opposed it on 56 occasions.

Miss Schneider is a firm believer in the adage of former House Speaker Thomas P. ''Tip'' O'Neill that ''all politics is local,'' a line she repeats often.

Pell, on the other hand, is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a prestigious post but not one that lends itself to local politics.

Therefore, Pell plays up his work in education. It's hard to find a college student or graduate who hasn't heard of Pell grants, a source of federal aid for millions of needy students.

It's been a long time since either candidate faced serious competition.

Pell won with 73 percent of the vote in 1984 and 75 percent in 1978. Miss Schneider lost to Democratic Rep. Edward Beard in 1978, but beat him two years later and her winning margins have increased steadily since. In 1986 and 1988, she won re-election with 72 percent of the vote.