Like oak and maple leaves tinting the hills and meadows of Virginia this October, the gubernatorial campaign of Republican John N. Dalton has subtly altered hue.

Where last summer Dalton chided the "Democrat Party" and larded his speeches with partisan statistics dished up by the GOP National Committee, today he mutes his party affillation with appeals to tradition and to the magic memory of the late Sen, Harry Byrd Sr.

Where once he called forth vicsions of the nation's Republican future, today he cites his kinship with the state's Democratic past.

Dalton's Republican strategists defend the tactical changes in his campaign as the sort of political realism necessary in a stage where polls show anly 22 oer cent of the voters consider themselves members of the GOP.But the ironics aren't lost on the candidate himself, once a Byrd-baiting minority legislator snubbed and frustracted by many of the old-line organization Democrats who today flock to his side.

"I was in Winchester the other day." Dalton said last week during a plane ride over southeast Virginia.He found himself talking to E. Blackburn Moore, the Democratic organization veteran who for 30 years as speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates assigned all Republicans to committees that never met.

"He said he wanted to do all he could for me." Dalton remembered."I couldn't help but thing well, when I was in the House you could have given me a committee that met." Dalton himself concedes that the changes in Moore and many other old line conservatives have less to do with his own candidacy than with that of his opponent. Democrat Henry Howell has labor union allies and a rambunctious political style that triggers horror in many conservative Virginia minds.

But while Howell sends the old line Democrats into the Republican camp, the escape of the Dalton strategy is to blur the party lines he once sought to define to paint himself not as an allegnative to that Virginia of yesterday but as its heir apparent.

Like some political conjurer calling forth the ghosts of Virginia past he has reached back to and beyond the state's racially troubled eras of the 1950s and 60s for endorsements from old line Byrd Democrats.

Hese conservative Democrats were once anathema to a Virginia GOP keyed to racial accommodation and more responsive government.

They include:

Former Del. William A. Pennington, 66, of Buckingham, who ran for governor in 1969 as a supporter of Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace for President and attributed movements for both civil rights and sex education in the schools to "a Communist plot."

Former Del. Jeremiah Jonathan Jewett, 52, of Chesterfield, a former county chairman of the Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties.

Former Gov. William M. Tuck, 82, gationist who seven years ago ina speech compared school integration to of Halifax, an unreconstructed segre, "mixing coal dust and vanilla ice cream."

Former Rep. Watkins M. Abbitt of Appomattox, who four years ago derided a Howell campaign contributor as a "liberal left-wing millionaire Jew."

Dalton campaign workers are quick to point out their endorsement list of former Democratic legislators contains the names of some racial moderates as well.

The candidate himself speaks of his quest for a "broad base of public support" and notes endorsements as well from several black churches and campaign organizations.

But the clear thrust of the Dalton campaign is to the right, toward that indefinable and peculiarly Virginian banner of Fiscal conservatism and social acceptability emblazoned with the name of Byrd.

Though U.S. Sen. Harry F. Bryd Jr. (Ind. Va.) has kept his silence in the race, his antipathy toward Howell is well known and his picture adorns a Dalton brochure. Dalton rarely lets a speech go by without praising him or his father as a "great leader." and last Tuesday he announced in Chesterfield County that the younger Byrd's wife has donated $1,000 to the Dalton campaign.

Even the campaign button for Virginians for Dalton, the candidate's umbrella organization for non-Republicans, is skillfully designed to mimic the traditional Byrd campaign button bearing the portrait of a cardinal "Byrd."

Dalton strategists hope the signals are clear.