Bleary Northern Virginia communters stepped from their buses at the Rosslyn Metro Station yesterday to be greeted by the Democratic candidates of the rainbow ticket - Henry Howell, Edward Lane, and Charles Robb.

"Here's your pictures of Chuck, Ed and Henry and the Natural Bridge," Howell shouted at the startled crowds. "The Natural Bridge is open daily. Let's talk it up for the Natural Bridge, folks."

Howell, the populist Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia, was campaigning in the ebullient style that has become as distinctive to him as Smithfield hams have been to Virginia.

His words echoing off the station's waffle-like concrete ceiling. Howell and his running mates ended their five-day flying tour of the state, darting among rush-hour Washington commuters and promising that they could deliver more financial aid to the Metro system than their Republican opponents can.

"We're fighting hard for the consumer, Howell told another crowd waiting for a Washington-bound Metro bus. "We've got a hearing and will be opposing a $40 million request (for electric higher rates) that Vepco (Virginia Electric and Power Co.) has before the State Corporation Commision."

"Now don't worry if you don't know what I said," Howell added without pausing. "It (the Vepco request) means more money out of your pocket."

Howell, 57, making his third race for governor sice 1969, was clearly bouyed by the fact that several bus riders recognized him. They shouted "Henry" at him and promised him support in the Nov. 8 general election in which he faces Republican Lt. Gov. John N. Dalton. Aformer lieutenant governor, Howell clearly was in charge yesterday, praising Robb, the party's nominee for lieutenant governor, for holding a rear bus door open while he greeted the riders and later directing Lane, the candidate for attorney general, to do the same with the next bus.

Howell seemed at one point to be astonished by the speed at which the commuters dashed toward the station's 230-foot long escalators and the eagerness with which some of then snapped up his brochure. "Frank, they think I'm giving them the new schedule for Metro," Howell laughed at Frank Bolling, his press secretary, at one point in the morning.

Howell's exuberance at the Metro station constrasted sharply with his bitter attack the previous night on Washington's two daily newspapers for their coverage of his campaign. In a brief speech to about 320 supporters gathered in the basement of an Alexandria church, Howell complained most angrily about The Washington Post, saying the paper printed an "irresponsible, disgraceful" account of the start of his current tour and had ignored conflict-of-interest charges he has made against Dalton.

Howell attacked a Post story that began "With hopeful hallelujahs and the blessing of former Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, Virginia Democrats launched their fall campaign for the statehouse over the weekend, proclaiming the gospel of party unity - reborn through necessity - Henry Howell."

howell said he did not know that Cleaver was on the platform with him at a Hampton religious convocation and "We were there for 2 1/2 hours and this gentleman. who they later told me was Eldridge Cleaver, did not say a word," Howell said.

The story reported that Cleaver spoke - of his religous coversion, his joy over "what's happing here in Virginia" and his belief that the United States is "the freest nation on earth" - after Howell had departed.

In addition, Howell complained about the Post's coverage of his charges that Dalton, while a state senator, sponsored legislation in 1962 that allowed banks and other lenders to increase a service charge made on certain loan transaction. Dalton is a director of a nationally chartered bank in Radford, Va., and his bank stood to benefit from the legislation, Howell has charged.

In his Alexandria speech Howell said that The Post has not undertaken to prove his allegation, while he said it was beyond dispute that Dalton's bank could have benefited from the legislation.

Dalton has flatly denied the charge saying that the First and the Merchant Bank of Radford, in which his family holds stock valued at about $273,000, is a national bank and was not affected by the legislation. The bill affected only state chartered banks, Dalton has said. The Post reported on Aug. 30 that such a state law could, under some regulatory interpretations, be applied to national banks.

During his recent Democratic primary campaign, Howell, a Norfolk lawyer, made similar charges against Norfolk's two newspapers. His latest charges, he said yesterday, came over the objections of campaign aides who coutioned him against attacking news media. Howell said he rejected his advice because he believes his criticsm "will make them better."