ALEXANDRIA, La. (AP) _ The Louisiana congressional district dominated by Huey Long's family for almost 35 years is proving to be tough turf for other candidates even though the Long dynasty is in decline.

The grotesquely gerrymandered district, twisting almost 150 miles from coastal Lake Pontchartrain to the piney hills around Alexandria in the middle of the state, was tailor-fitted around the late Rep. Gillis Long's populist constituency.

Now that his widow, Cathy Long, is retiring, the five candidates vying to replace her are finding out just how artfully the 8th District was drawn over the years.

All of the contenders are well known in their own areas, but none has much name recognition across all of the sprawling district. And spreading their message throughout the 8th requires advertising in four large media markets: New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Lafayette and Alexandria.

''Gillis did a good job of making it expensive for anyone to run against him,'' said Clyde Holloway, a Republican who previously ran against both Gillis and Cathy Long.

The tight field also includes four Democrats: District Attorney Morgan Goudeau of Opelousas, state Sen. Joe Sevario of Prairieville, attorney Faye Williams of Alexandria and former Long aide Carson Killen of St. Amant.

Holloway, Goudeau and Sevario all contend they have polls showing themselves ahead, but all concede it will be close race among all five candidates in Saturday's unique open primary.

Everyone runs on the same ballot, regardless of party. If any candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, he or she is elected. Otherwise, the top two finishers meet in a runoff Nov. 4.

Though the seat was never held by Huey Long, the famous governor and then senator who was assassinated in 1935, people in the 8th District have gotten used to voting for a Long.

The seat was held by Huey's brother, George, from 1952 until his death in 1957. Another brother, Earl Long, recaptured the seat for the family in 1960, but died before assuming office. Gillis Long, Huey's cousin, won it back in 1962, but lost in 1964 to another cousin, Speedy Long. When Speedy retired eight years later, Gillis took it over and held it until his death in 1985.

Even now, the only candidate campaigning against the Long liberal record is Holloway, a nurseryman from Forest Hill whose resistance to a 1980 federal school desegregation order drew national attention.

When a federal judge padlocked the doors of predominantly white Forest Hill Elementary, Holloway and other parents set up a protest school that thrives six years later.

Holloway says race is no longer an important issue, not with blacks and whites alike suffering from a depression in the state's oil and farm industries. His big issue is the need to balance the federal budget.

''People want a fresh face,'' he says. ''Someone who doesn't feed them the malarkey they hear from the slick politicians.''

The race issue also is played down by Williams, a black woman who calls Holloway ''one of the more positive people in the race.''

''I've tried not to make race an issue,'' she said. ''I don't think it's entered the campaign at all.''

Williams, who left a House committee staff job in Washington to make the race, differs from Holloway in favoring more federal aid for the victims of hard times.

Closest to the Long legacy is Killen, who served as Gillis' chief of staff for 10 years and managed Cathy's campaign in the special election to succeed him.

The issue of legislative experience is claimed by Sevario, who has served in the state Senate for 10 years.

''All of my opponents together have never cast one vote,'' he says. ''I've never lost a race, and I feel as good about this one as any I've ever run.''

A wider range of experience is claimed by Goudeau. A prosecutor for 31 years, he also manages a 700-acre family farm and a savings and loan.

''I'm familiar with business, agriculture and government,'' says Goudeau, a self-described ''moderate to conservative'' who believes more restrictions on foreign imports would help the U.S. economy.