At 9 a.m. yesterday, Andrew Pickens Miller was a mere speck in the blue over National Airport, in a helicopter above that most durable of Virginia institutions, the Shirley Highway traffic jam.

The Virginia governor's race had come to Northern Virginia and Miller was observing a time-worn regional ritual: watching rush hour.

Back on the ground, however, the media were getting restless. The campaign day was only 30 minutes old and already behind schedule. Instead of finding Miller at the commuter terminal as promised they found themselves as warm in 95 fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders from Newcastle, Ind., disembarking from Evergreen International Airlines.

The candidate was still up in the air.

His vehicle was a jet-powered Bell Ranger helicopter lent by a Baltimore excavation contractor named John Diggs. Diggs, who dug the foundation for the Capital Centre, was making an out-of-state contribution in kind.

When the helicopter at last landed, Miller returned from the landing pad in an airport van, where he was promptly cornered by a television reporter and interviewed before he could escape. The noise of the planes landing and taking off and taxing by was so great nobody could hear what he said.

The Northern Virginia campaign tour was underway, little more than a month before the June 14 Democratic primary in which the former attorney general faces former Lt. Gov. Henry Howell.

And the Northern Virginia rituals were under way. Next stop: The Metro Ride.

Waiting at the airport's new Metro station was a specially summoned subway train scheduled to take the candidate on a ride underground. The station was only above 40 yards away from the terminal. But Miller, and his entourage of aides and press boarded an eight-car motorcade to drive nearly a mile over, around and through the maze of new airport traffic lanes to get across the street.

In the Metro station, Miller was led toward a moving escalator as the television cameras rolled, surrounded by nearly 30 reporters, photographers TV technicians and campaign aides, talking and clicking shutters.

One of the TV light men stepping back for a better angle, inadvertently stepped on the escalator and disappeard slowly upward, looking puzzled; as Miller was still talking below.

On the platform above, the candidate posed for pictures with Fairfax Supervisors Joseph Alexander and Warren Cikens against a backdrop of urban skyline and propwash, then placed a Metro hard hat (size 7 1/2) atop his head and boarded the train.

The train had hardly started rolling when a TV reporter asked Miller "How do you like your ride so far?"

The trip to Rosslyn was cut unexplainedly short at the Pentagon station. Michael Campilongo, Miller's Eighth District coordinator, said later he understood the change was caused by "flooding in the Rosslyn station" about two days ago. Metro spokesman Marilyn McGinty, however, said it was only "water problems in some ancillary rooms" and nothing to stop a train.

Miller, at any rate, gave his news conference at the Pentagon, where he announced he was "no stranger to Metro" had been in the Crystal City station just six months ago, and thought Northern Virginia was entitled to "a more sensitive state response" to its transportation needs than it had received in the past.

Asked if he would describe his campaign day so far as a media event (he had yet to see a voter) he said "I think it's very important to try to overcome the communications gaps that exist in Richmond and Northern Virginia."

The campaign tour then moved to the next regional political ritual - a visit to a state institution. Miller stopped at the Fairfax County Pre-School Center for Handicapped Children, then sat on the grass outside in his shirt sleeves eating a sandwich, drinking a Dr. Pepper, and taking politics with reporters.

When a TV reporter asked to film some more questions, Miller declined to be filmed with the Dr. Pepper and put on the jacket to his pin striped suit before the cameras rolled.

The day was warming when Miller reached Northern Virginia Community College, and so was Miller, for there lay the greatest visual backdrop any politician could ask for: an outdoor International Fair, packed with more than 1,000 voting-age students, craft booths, beer trucks, and a jazz band and a dozen tables dripping with ethnic foods ranging from fettucini through sweet potato pie.

Miller pushed happily through the crowd at the taco and empenada table set up by the NVCC Spanish Club, then worked this way, shaking hands and asking, questions, toward the bratwurst and pffeferkuchen of the German Club as his aides handed out orange and white baseball caps emblazoned "It's Miller Time."

He joked with the young girls, found a veteran with a problem, doffed his coat and drank a grape drink, and applauded Joe Dzak, 21 for drinking Miller beer.

Andy Miller, at last, was working a crowd.