Virginia gubernatorial candidate Henry Howell came home to Tidewater today, richocheting among three Hampton Roads cities pleading for votes in the areas that have been his strength before.

At the same time, a confident Andrew P. Miller brought his gubernatorial campaign here to Howell's home town, prediction he has "a good chance" of winning his opponent's home congressional district in Tuesday's Democratic primary.

Howell, speaking to a crowd of 150 at the Oceanview Social and Democratic Club here, beseeched: "Go out and find some learners, somebody who's for Andy, and tell them the young man . . . is inexperienced . . . not equipped for the job."

In a biting speech that repeatedly attacked Miller's judgment and ability, Howell accused the former state atorney general of ignoring recent consumer hearings before the State Corporation Commission "because he is off the public payroll and no longer interested in fighting for you."

The Oceanview speech wound up a day-long campaign through Howell's home areas of Norfolk, Newport News and Hampton, where he has always rolled up huge majorities in previous elections.

"Something's happening, I can feel it," Howell called to no one in particular as he and his staff pamphleted lunchtime passersby outside the Newport News Shippbuilding and Drydock Co. in his quest for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination next Tuesday.

"All right, men, it's Henry Howell," he said, offering his hand to a pair of black hard-hats.

"That's cool," said one.

"Cool as ice cream and twice as good for you," replied Howell, pinning a button on the employee and heading for Shugam's pawnship to shake hands in front of the guitars and pistols.

At the Busy Bee carryout he pushed his way through a friendly crowd of shipyard workers queuing up for barbecue and custard pie, worked the lunchroom, the kitchen, the counter and even passed out brochures through the carryout window to startled people waiting for milkshakes.

He did a TV standup interview ("how's the campaign going, Henry?") outside the shipyard gate, then stopped by the H.C. Price barbershop for a hair spray touchup.

The reception was friendly almost everywhere but at a tavern called Bob's Place, proprietor Bob Long, weighed down with lunchtime dishes, was in no mood for interruptions.

"Allright, I got no time for any damn political stuff," he shouted as Howell worked the post lunch stragglers at the counter.

"Need some help with those dishes?" the candidate replied.

"You're damn right," snarled Long.

Howell promptly dropped his bag of bumper stickers and pamphlets and began wrestling dirty plates adn glasses into the kitchen.

"There you are," he told the amazed Long when the job was done. "Remember me on Tuesday. I'm the only former lieutenant governor who will help clear your tables today."

Meanwhile, Miller, too, was in extraordinary good humor as he began a final three-day campaign drive that will take him to three sections of the state believed critical to his opponent's chances of victory. These are the Tidewater area, Southwest and Northern Virginia.

Even after a tense encounter with a port official who refused to brief him on a major dispute at the port here, Miller seemed delighted. "That's the problem, exactly," he said after the manager refused to discuss why state officials want the private operator ousted as manager of a state-owned pier in Newport News.

Despite the port incident and the hearty but ambivalent endorsement he received from a 6-foot-2-inch, 250-pound longshoreman today, Miller appeared pleased with his tour and later spoke more optimistically than ever about his chances of carrying the area Tuesday.

"But I'm not overconfident," Miller said.

In Newport News and again in Norfolk, longshoremen stopped their work to greet Miller and ask him what he would do to help improve the pier where they were working. "You going to get us more work for this pier?" shouted James Lee, 49, who almost immediately promised Miller "I'm going to vote for you, yes sir."

Miller, Lee told newsmen as he paused beside a South African ship, is "the best man for the job." Howell, who has usually won overwhelming support among members of th International Longshoremen's Association was a also man with "good ideas", Lee said. But Lee said he saw no problem. Miller, he said, "is running for attorney general, isn't he?" Lee refused to believe reporters when they insisted that Miller and Howell were opponents in the race for governor.

Earlier in a television taping at WTOP-TV in Washington Miller attacked Howell's repeated appearances before the State Corporation Commission as insignificant. "I was afraid to use the word 'show' because that's exactly what my opponent has been doing for 10 to 12 years before the State Corporation Commission," Miller said in response to a question. He accused Howell of distorting his record as attorney gerneral before the SCC.