First Lady Rosalynn Carter took a short drive from her home on Pennsylvania Avenue yesterday into suburban Virginia to campaign for "a good man." Democratic gubernatorial candidate Henry E. Howell.

With just over two weeks left before the Nov. 8 election, Mrs. Carter spent about 2 1/2 hours attending a rally at Springfield Mall and visiting Culpeper Gardens, a senior citizens' residence in Arlington. At both places she was greeted by cheering crowds and told everyone to vote for Howell because he is "courageous and compassionate."

"Jimmy and Henry are alike in many ways." she told a crowd of a few hundred shoppers and Democratic supporters at the Mall. "They are both committed to the people. They don't think government should respond only to the wealthy and the influential. They think government should respond to the average person who works for a living, the housewife, the consumer, the handicapped,the elderly . . ."

The mall rally attracted enthusiatic Howell supporters carrying signs like "Renters Want Henry" and "Virginia is for Lovers of Howell." A bluegrass band, complete with a player dressed in a clown's [WORD ILLEGIBLE] outfit with a rubber chicken in his pants pocket, warmed up the audience before the celebrities arrived.

"Sock it to 'em, Henry," yelled one man in a throng of campaign workers who gathered in the mall's community room to watch Howell present Mrs. Carter with a bumper sticker after the rally, "Hey, Rosie!" bellowed a woman over the noise.

Howell is given a good chance in Northern Virginia, which both Howell and his Republican challenger, John N. Dalton, consider crucial to winning the election. With the heavily populated Washington suburbs filled with many transients who know little about either candidate, the quest for votes here has been particularly intense. Dalton has spent at least one day a week here since he started to campaign. Howell apparently recovered from a brief bout of laryngitis early yesterday, offered the mall crowd a typical example of his streamo-of-consciousness speech making.

"People are wondering why the President of the United States would take time to come to Roanoke, Virginia, to go to Norfolk, Virginia, to go to Williamsburg, Virginia, for Henry Howell," the candidate said, referring to a campaign visit the President made Sept. 24.

Howell then mentioned Carter's "forebears" who lived in Isle of Wight County in the 1600s, and referred to his hero, George Mason, who wrote the Bill of Rights in Virginia's Constitution. From there Howell slid into a campaign pitch, back to Carter's ancestors and George Mason, and his favorite Mason quote: "that all power is vested in, and consequently derived from the people . . ."

"Not enough public servants realize that," Howell said. "But our President realizes it, and his wife realizes it, and Amy realizes it too."

At Culpener Garders, both Howell and Mrs. Carter spoke of their concern for the elderly. Mrs. Carter gave an engraving of the White House signed by herself and the President to the residence's oldest resident, Agnes Orth, who was 97 years old yesterday. Everyone sang "Happy Birthday."

One resident, who would not give her name, was unhappy about the visit. Wearing a hand-lettered sign saying "Dalton" stuck to her dress with a hairpin, the woman said she'd been told the First Lady was visiting because she was concerned about the elderly. "I had no idea they were going to turn this place into a hotbed of politics," she sniffed.