The public address system was broken but that didn't bother Gov. Mills E. Godwin. He moved away from the lectern on the porch of the 170-year Tidewater home and onto the steps beside the camellia bushed and motioned to the crowd to come closer.

Then, while the barbecue and hush puppies waited simmering in the backyard, he told the 300 or so people gathered under the oaks and maples in the twilight why the election of Republican John N. Dalton was important.

"Make no mistake about it, my friends," he said in resonant cadenees reminiscent of Franklin Roosevelt. "In this commonwealth the office of governor is an extremely important and influential tradition. It sets the policy and the tone for . . . the state . . . during the next four years."

Warming to his subject as the evening cools, the 62-year-old Democrat turned Republican calls Dalton, "my right arm" - a man with "the characteristics of mind and heart and will serve Virginia well."

The summoning the combination of anger and loathsome disdain that an emperor might reserve for a roach, he turned to Dalton's opponent Henry E. Howell.

Dalton's Democratic opponent, he said, "has run many times for many offices under a number of labels . . .

"He has always elected throughout the years . . . to be associated with the most liberal espousers of political causes in this nation. And you can take them all the way from (Fredericksburg former delegate) George Rawlings to (former presidential candidate) George McGovern to (Vice president Walter) Mondale . . . do they represent the kind of philosophy that has made this great state great? I say to you this afternoon, you know something about a man by the company he keeps . . .

"Here's a man," Godwin said, he voice rising over the applause, "who has the audacity to say he will be the kind governor . . . that is such a fiscal conservative that would make Harry Byrd Sr., now deceased, look a spendthrift."

An evening breeze stirred the leaves overhead, but the audience was transfixed. Godwin went on. He spoke of Virginia's right to work law ("nothing more or less than the declaration of independence of working man") and then turned his contempt on the federal government.

"Now Mr. Dalton's opponent has a friend in the White House whose appointee as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare has put Virginia on notice that we've got to accept a quota system in our institutions of higher learning . . ." Godwin said.

"They don't even allege that Virginia has any discrimination . . . but here comes HEW marching down the road. And I've been resisting it since I was in the office before, and I've resisted it these few years, and if you help us elect this young man he's going to resist it four years more."

Howell, Godwin charged over the applause, has said he would convene college presidents and see what they think about it before he takes up with Washington.

"Well, now I tell you, if he doesn't know about it and he had to wait and get all the college presidents in to tell him what he thinks this state ought to do . . .

"I think you know what this state ought to do. I think John Dalton knows what this state ought to do and that's why we ought to elect somebody who's going to speak up for us, somebody who's going to resist the encroachment of the federal government of those things inherently part of the state's activities."

"Now, said Godwin, his voice becoming hushed with reverence, "it's a great honor, a great honor to be governor of this state. The people of Virginia have honored me in that way for longer than any Virginian who ever served. And I would like to think that that office holds a special place in the great affection and high esteem of the people of Virginia.

"Here are two men. Now you just ask yourself . . ." Godwin said, "which of these two you'd be more comfortable with . . . which one will more nearly reflect the kind of Virginia you love? Which one in a time of stress . . . will act responsibly in the traditions of this great state?

"I know who that is and you do, too . . . I'm happy to present him to you. He honors us with his presence.I hope you will honor him with your votes."

And when John Dalton stepped forward into the applause, the audience was ready.