The major party candidates for governor of Virginia - Democrat Henry E. Howell and Republican John N. Dalton - have given the state's voters a sharp contrast in personal style and policy positions.

Two factors in the long campaign have tended to blur the differences between the nominees on issues. One has been the personal attacks by each candidate and his surrogates against the other.

The other has been the natural tendency of each candidate to protect vulnerable flanks. Dalton, a conservative Republican, has run as a "problem solving" politician. Some of his more detailed proposals have a progressive ring.

Howell, a populist Democrat, has run as a fiscal conservative whose primary concern is preventing a general tax increase.

Thus, the campaigns have appeared to draw the candidates toward each other on issues. However, real differences in positions do exist. The following is a summary of policy statements by both candidates. Budget and Taxes

Howell has unequivocally promised that there will be no general tax increase during his administration. If the General Assembly should pass a general increase in the sales or income tax, he has said, he will veto it.

Given the choice between cutting programs or a general tax increase, Howell has said he will cut programs.

He has said that he does not believe program cuts will be necessary, however, because he believes a general improvement in the economy under the Carter administration will increase state revenues.

Howell also has promised to recommend closing "tax loopholes that benefit the super rich." These loopholes include reduced taxes on income from foreign investments and oil and gas investments.

Dalton also has said he prefers reduction of government programs instead of a general tax increase. However, he has refused to promise that he would veto an Assembly bill raising taxes.

The Republican has said that he will try to eliminate as many of the 9,000 vacant jobs now existing in state government as he can.

The two candidates are in complete disagreement on one controversial budget question: Whether the $35 million annual cost of the state police should be paid out of gasoline taxes or general taxes. The Assembly this year borrowed the money from gasoline funds - used for highway construction - to pay police costs. Howell favors a permanent shift of the police cost to the gasoline tax to relieve pressure on the general fund. Dalton opposes it. Local Government

The candidates are sharply divided on how much autonomy cities and counties should have. City councils and county boards of supervisors now may take only those kinds of actions specifically permitted by the General Assembly. This state policy prevents local governments from undertaking such major changes as imposition of a local income tax or approval of collective bargaining by public employees.It also clutters the Assembly calendar with bills to change local pet control and trash collection ordinances.

Howell favors a constitutional amendment that would permit cities and counties to pass any law, subject to approval of local voters in a referendum, that is not specifically disapproved by a vote of two-thirds of each house in the Assembly.

Dalton opposes such a change, saying it would open the way to higher sales and income taxes in many localities. Public Employee Unions

This is another issue that divides Dalton and Howell. The Republican flatly opposes collective bargaining between public employee unions and state or local governments.

He says the process inevitably will lead to higher taxes, strikes, interruption of essential public services - including police and fire protection - and transfer of policy-making power from elected officials to union officials.

Howell favors public employee bargaining, but says he would not force it on cities and counties that do not want it.

He has said that he will try to set up bargaining in the executive branch of the state government. He also favors legislation permitting cities and counties to bargain with their employees if they choose to do so. Economy and Jobs

Dalton has tried to make an issue of jobs by saying that Howell's refusal to endorse the state's ban on compulsory union membership would undercut recruitment of new industry for the state.

Howell insists the issue is a "phony" one in the campaign because the General Assembly will never repeal the right-to-work law that bans compulsory unionism.

Dalton has pledged to veto any repeal of the right to work law. Howell has not.

Late in the campaign, Howell promised to work with President Carter to provide short term public jobs for unemployed Virginians. Utilities

Governors have little authority over utility regulation, but both Dalton and Howell have issued detailed statements on this issue. Both have called for a greater role for the governor's office in monitoring utility practices.

The most significant proposals by each candidate would directly affect the present right of electric utilities, such as Virginia Electric and Power Co. (Vepco) to automatically pass on all increases in fuel costs to customers.

Howell favors abolition of the automatic fuel charge altogether. So far, however, the Assembly and the utility regulating State Corporation Commission have declined to do that.

As an alternative, Howell has proposed penalizing Vepco whenever its nuclear power station operations fall below the average operating record for all nuclear power plants in the nation during the previous year. Under his plan, Vepco would be prohibited from passing on higher coal and oil costs when its nuclear stations are not operating up to the national average. The utility would be allowed to keep higher earnings that result from better than average operations.

Last year, Vepco's nuclear units operated below the national average. During the first nine months of this year, the company recently announced, the Vepco nuclear operating record was about 10 per cent better than the 1976 national average.

Dalton has made an even more ambitious proposal to hold Vepco and other utilities to an efficiency standard. Under his plan, Vepco would be required to guarantee a minimum operating record not only for its nuclear plants but for all other plants as well.

Although nuclear fuel provides the cheapest power in the Vepco system, the company's generating plants built at coal mine sites also provide relatively inexpensive power - less than half as costly as electricity generated at old coal plants or even new oil plants.

The Dalton plan also would penalize Vepco when the coal-fired units are not operating up to required minimums.

Dalton also has proposed transfer of the state's utility oversight office from the SCC to the governor's office. He says the three commissioners who set rates should not also hire and supervise the administrative officials who monitor utility practices and represent the public in rate cases.

Howell favors creation of a utility oversight unit under the governor, but has not proposed outright transfer of duties from the SCC.

Howell has called for the Assembly to legislate a return to the 10-cent pay call in Virginia. The SCC approved an increase to 20 cents and the Assembly refused to reverse that action through legislation. Energy

Dalton has called for aggressive development of Virginia energy resources, including production from offshore wells and construction of a proposed refinery at Portsmouth. Both candidates opposed federal restrictions on surface mining of coal in Southwest Virginia.

Howell has declared his total support of President Carter's energy proposals, including the President's opposition to deregulation of natural gas prices. Dalton supports deregulation. Affirmative Action

Dalton has sided with Gov. Mills E. Godwin in outright opposition to federal efforts to set specific minority enrollment goals in Virginia colleges. Godwin and Dalton have said they consider the goals to be quotas.

Howell at first said he would not take a position on the issue until after he consulted with state college presidents after the election. He later said he would oppose any system that imposes quotas. Parimutuel Betting

Both candidates favor legalization of horse track betting in the state. Abortion

Both candidates favor denial of Medicaid for abortions not needed to protect the health of the pregnant woman. The State Board of Health has proposed termination of such aid to poor women. Health

Howell has promised strict enforcement of state laws, now widely ignored, requiring full immunization of pre-school children. The Democrat also has said he will promote expansion of paramedical services and develop incentives for doctors to practice in rural areas. He said he will encourage private industry to insure Virginians against the costs of preventive medicine.

Dalton has called on private health care providers to undertake a systematic reduction of hospital and other health care costs to head off federal intervention.

Both candidates have called for less reliance on large state hospitals for mental health care and more reliance on outpatient care at community facilities. Services for Elderly

Howell has called for adding dentures, hearing aids and eyeglasses to Medicaid benefits, an increase in food stamp outlets for the elderly, expanded legal services, a larger home meal program, property tax relief, more public housing units and repeal of the sales tax on nonprescription drugs.

Dalton has called for relaxation of retirement age rules to permit persons to work past 65 if they choose to do so. Metro

Dalton has promised to release the $10 million state appropriation for Metro construction that is now awaiting a finding by the governor that a satisfactory financial plan has been adopted to complete the system. He has promised increased construction aid in the future, but warned that Metro officials must control operating costs.

Howell also has said he would release the $10 million and has promised "fair" and "adequate" state aid for Metro construction beyond that amount.

Dalton has supported completion of Interstate Rte. 66 between the Capital Beltway and the Potomac, an issue that has often been linked to state support of Metro. Howell has said he will not take a position on I-66 until he studies all the options, if any, that are open to him as governor. The road is under construction. Elections

Howell favors post card registration of voters and public financing of election campaigns of statewide candidates. Dalton opposes both. Education

Dalton has called for adoption of a code of conduct by each school board in the state and for full implementation of a "competency-based" curriculum that would require public school pupils to demonstrate they have mastered basic skills before being promoted.

Howell advocates free text books for all children, expansion of counselling and volunteer programs and earlier student teaching by prospective teachers. Crime and Corrections

Howell favors reduced reliance on plea bargaining, speedier trials, more uniformity in sentencing and a crack down on heroin traffic.

Dalton has stressed the need to expand prison facilities through passage of the proposed state bond issue. Appointments. Administration

Dalton has promised to adopt several techniques to "open up" state government. He has said he will hold cabinet meetings in scattered areas of the state and a monthly "people's day" at the Capitol to hear citizens who want to drop in and talk about government problems. He has also promised to meet regularly with the state's Congressional delegation to improve liaison with the federal government.

Dalton and Howell have both promised to place black Virginians in top policy-making jobs. Dalton also has promised to name recent graduates to the governing boards of state colleges.

Howell has said he would open up the government by assigning assistants to regional offices to serve as his personal representatives to people in the area. He also plans to appoint a 25-member citizens advisory committee in each of the state's 10 Congressional districts to advise him on legislative needs and executive actions. ERA

Howell favors ratification of the proposed amendment to the federal Constitution barring discrimination on the basis of sex. Dalton opposes ratification on grounds that the state guarantee is sufficient.