Jane Eskind In Tight Race With House Speaker in Tennessee Governor Primary With AM-Primaries Rdp Bjt

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Public Service Commission Chairman Jane Eskind was running hard against House Speaker Ned McWherter for the Democratic nomination in Thursday's gubernatorial primary.

The Democratic nominee will run against former Gov. Winfield Dunn, who is without major Republican opposition in his party's primary.

Nashville Mayor Richard Fulton, a third major Democratic contender, is counting on Mrs. Eskind and McWherter to split each others' votes.

About 1 million people are expected to vote Thursday.

Tennessee has never had a woman governor, and no woman ever has won a party nomination for the job.

Only one Democrat, Ray Blanton, has held the governor's office since 1970, when Dunn was elected to serve his first term as the first GOP governor in half a century. Blanton was recently released from two years in prison for a conspiracy conviction involving liquor license disbursements during his administration.

Republican Gov. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the National Governors Association, has gained prominence with education reform and industrial recruitment during two terms. The Tennessee constitution bars him from seeking a third consecutive term.

The candidates reported record spending for the primary, surpassing the $2 million spent in the 1978 Democratic primary by Knoxville banker Jake Butcher, who won the nomination but was defeated by Alexander. Butcher's financial empire collapsed in 1983, and he is now serving a 20-year prison term on bank fraud charges.

Mrs. Eskind, whose family wealth accounts for much of the $3.7 million she spent on the campaign, has run a series of TV ads tying McWherter and Fulton, a former congressman, to special interests.

She has refused political action committee contributions, and her husband, stockbroker Richard Eskind, has loaned or contributed at least $2.9 million to the campaign.

McWherter spent $1.8 million and Fulton reported receiving $1.5 million, borrowing $200,000 and spending $1.7 million. In a solo campaign, Dunn reported spending $1.9 million of the $2.4 million he had raised by July 28.

McWherter, who has attacked Mrs. Eskind's spending, including $569,000 in the last week, predicted this week he would receive the endorsement of voters in six of the state's nine congressional districts.

One of those he concedes to Mrs. Eskind is the 9th District, which includes all of Memphis. U.S. Rep. Harold Ford, a 9th District Democrat and the only black congressman from Tennessee, has put his support behind Mrs. Eskind.

Nominees also will be chosen for the state's nine U.S. representatives. The spotlight was on the Nashville-centered 5th District, where Rep. Bill Boner's financial dealings were under federal grand jury investigation and he faced a primary challenge from veteran legislator Steve Cobb.

Republicans and Democrats alike competed for the right to succeed Mrs. Eskind on the Public Service Commission. All 99 seats in the state House and 17 of the state's 33 Senate seats also were up this year, with Democrats sure to retain a majority.