Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Henry E. Howell is beginning his general election campaign under the burden of a $118,508 primary election debt, disclosure reports filed with state officials show.

Howell was plagued by financial problems throughout his primary race, but they did not prevent him from narrowly defeating former Attorney General Andrew P. Miller on June 14 for the Democratic nomination.

Howell, 56, a former lietenant governer from Norfolk, is opposed by Republicnan Lt. Gov. John N. Dalton, 46, of Radford, in the general election.

The post-primary through July 9, shows that Howell raised and spent less than half as much money as Miller. Miller set a Virginia primary campaign record by spending more than $1 million or more than $4 for each of the 239,735 votes he received.

Howell reported contributions and outstanding loans of $478,133. His total spending - money paid out plus unpaid bills - totoled $492.119.

Miller reported contributions and outstanding loans of $1,002,415. Expenditures and unpaid bills for the Miller campaign totaled $1,044,642.

Miller also ended with a substantial debt.The report shows that the campaign had $42,000 in unpaid bills and a $10,000 outstanding loan as of July 9. Miller is considered a potential candidate for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate next year, but this total campaign debt of more than $52,000 could hamper his chances unless he pays if off quickly.

Howell's campaign deficit breaks down to about $31,000 in unpaid bills and $88,000 in outstanding loans. The candidate himself lent $30,000 to the campaign and another $50,000 was lent by Charles Horne, a wealthy Howell supporter who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Southwest Virginia's Ninth District in 1974 and 1976.

Howell campaign manager William Rosendahl has said that Horne is expected to cancel half the campaign debt owed to him.

Howell is expected to rely heavily in the general election on labor union contributions, a major source of financial support in his three previous statewide races.

Dalton is expected to be well financed by business contributors, including many who gave to Miller during the Democratic primary campaign. Virginia laws permits contributions by labor unions and corporations.

The post-election report by the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, Charles S. Robb. disclosed contributions and outstanding loans of $406,003 and total spending and unpaid bills of $428,895.

Robb also begins his general election race heavily in debt. He reported unpaid personal loans of $211,000. The campaign has about $24,000 in unpaid bills against a cash balance of about $1,000.

Del. Richard S. (Major) Reynolds of Richmond an unsuccessful candidate for the lieutenant governor nomination, reported total loans and contributions of $445,397 and total spending of $444,708.

Reynolds and his parents, major stockholders in the Reynolds Metals Co., provided most of the funds for his campaign. The post-election report of the third candidate in the lieutenant governor race, Del. Ira M. Lechner (Arlington) had not been received at the state Board of Elections today.

The winner of the Democratec nomination for attorney general, Del. Edward E. Lant (Richmond), reported total contributions and outstanding loans of $133,290 and total spending and unpaid bills of $136,637. Lane's total debt is $64,557.

Del. Erwin S. Solomon (Bath), who finish second to lane. Reported contributions and outstanding loans of $125,227 and total spending of $125,763.

McLean lawyer John T. Schell reported loans and contributions of $43,197 and spending and unpaid bills of $49,036.

The report of the fourth attorney general candidate, Del. John L. Melnick (Arlington), had not been received.