James P. Tucker can be found most weekdays at Third Street and Independence Avenue SE, where he is editor of Spotlight, the 125,000-circulation magazine of the arch-conservative Liberty Lobby.

Evenings and weekends find Tucker 70 miles from downtown Washington in a roomy house on 16 acres that cost him a total of $40,000. His land, in what he calls "the suburbs" of Locust Grove, Orange County, Va., was fought over in the vicious Civil War Battle of the Wilderness.

In between, he is on a bus. Even if he minded that, which he doesn't, it's a price he would pay to hold down a big city job and still have the leisurely pace of a country life style out beyond the suburbs. And he is not alone.

According to estimates of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, people who are daily, long-range commuters are a growing minority. Arlington once was considered distant, then Springfield, then Dale City. The implication for localities 50 miles and more from Washington is that change is coming - change that could turn those communities into replicas of the very places people are willing to drive so many miles to escape.

"I've stepped back in the last century down there," said Tucker, who jokes that he may be there where he belongs, given his job. "I put on my overalls, work in the garden, swap lies with my neighbors and go to a Baptist church founded in 1815."

Tucker, who rides a commuter bus line that serves the Fredericksburg area, said, "If you are on a bus reading, watching girls or having a drink, you can enjoy yourself. And enjoying yourself is not a waste of time.

"Driving a car on Shirley Highway is a waste of time. I get home at 6:20 p.m., and a guy who drives to Annandale leaves his office at 4:45 and gets home at 6."

At home with his wfie and sons, Tucker said, "Gardening is sort of our golf game we have a panoramic view of the Blue Ridge sunset and we don't lock our door. I have the best of both worlds."

Nancy Strole, director of research and communications for the International Snow Mobile Industry Association at 1800 M St. NW. lived in Arlington and Woodbridge before moving 18 months ago to a new log house and 40 acres in Stafford County.

She and her husband, a private consultant, "knew Woodbridge didn't fit our life style." He now drives to work, 75 minutes each way, in Arlington and "doesn't seem to mind," she said. Like many of the long-distance communters, Strole spent years growing up on a farm.

Nancy Strole catches the Colonial Transit commuter bus at about 6:30 a.m. on days when her schedule is firm, and drives her own car when she has to work late.

"The bus is not bad at all for those who can work set hours," she said. "Most people sleep on the way in, and I work or read or write on the way back."

"I would prefer to either live right in the city or live outside where you have other amenities - quiet, privacy, woods and wildlife - not an in-between situation," she said. "Everyone is friendly here. You drive on a country road and people you don't know wave. We have fox, deer, owl, quail, grouse, and turkey, and it's an hour from Washington."

A nearby farm has been sectioned off into 6- to 10-acre lots, she said, but so far the growth has not changed the life style. "I don't see it changing now, but it may," she said.

Residents of Purcellville, a town of about 1,800 west of Leesburg in Londoun County, echo her feelings that outsiders have not yet changed the outlying communities.

J.D. Tribby, 72, a former mayor, said, "We have quite a lot of commuters and we're getting more all the time . . . But we haven't had any major changes. The newcomers seem to be quite concerned about growth. Some of them feel they'd like it to stay as near as possible the way it way when they came."

One change was the election of commuter Edward Nestor, an American Airliners employe, as mayor. Nestor described himself as the first "nonblueblood" to win the job.He moved there only six years and ran on a platform of keeping the town as unchanged as possible.

Richard A. Bauer, a retired Marine aviator who is now a management consultant for Peat Marwick Mitchell Co. at 1025 Connecticut Ave. NW, thinks "driving is kind of fun," and now spends about three hours a day in a four-member car pool.

Bauer lived in Springfield until 1972, taking about an hour to drive to work. Now he lives in Lake of the Woods, a recreational development west of Fredericksburg and about 70 miles from Washington, and the trip takes about 90 minutes. He shares the driving with another man and estaimates the cost of commuting at $12 a week per person.

Like many other long-distance commuters, Bauer made the move when his children went off to college and he and his wife built their "retirement" home.

"We're totally away from suburbia in a very quiet area with a house right on a lake," Bauer said. "There is not really anything I miss."

Robert E. Doherty, who also rides in a carpool, apparently is a member of a district minority - bachelors - and that causes some problems. He lives in a town house in Centreville, but his social life centers around the city.

Doherty, assistant executive secretary with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on the 7th Street SW, works 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and misses the worst of the traffic, another common advantages most long-distance commuters have. They seem either to have flexible hours that allow them to miss rush-hour - and spend little more time in their auto than the beltway suburbanite - or they have fixed hours that allow them to use carpools or buses.

Doherty bought in Centreville because "I wanted to buy and that is how far I had to go to fit my economic level at the time. If I had been sure of my career in 1973 I would have bought in the city."

Now Doherty keeps a packed suitcase in his trunk and drives in alone about twice a week. "I may buy back into the city and keep other place to rent. There aren't many single people out there."

Sheila Way and Zachiariah Dameron Jr. are both longtime Fredericksburg residents and commuters, but there the similarity ends.

Dameron was manager of the FMC Corp. cellophane plant, Fredericksburg's largest employer, until it shut down this spring. Now he is assigned to the corporation's governmental affairs office at 1925 I St. NW.

He has been a commuter for only three weeks and says, "Driving is an aggravation." One rainy Monday, the drive to Washington took 2 hours, 55 minutes.

"I'm not as frustrated by the traffic as the unproductive time," said Dameron, who fears his hour may be too irregular for carpools or public transportation. Unlike most of the long-distance commuters he does not make the journey out of choice, and was not able to fit his work habits to his life style.

"I haven't decided yet whether to relocate," Dameron said. "You do what you do when you have to do it."

For Sheila Way, commuting is a family way of life. Born and reared in Falmouth, she passed the civil service examination and took a job with the Department of Agriculture.

"Some of my relatives have been commuting from Fredericksburg for 20 to 30 years. My father is with the FBI at Quantico, one uncle works at Fort Belvoir, and two others work for the CIA. I'm the only one who takes the bus.

"The pay is so much better in Washington and there is so much more opportunity," she said. "I sleep on the way up and either read or sleep on the way home. It's not really tiring."

Clyde Matthews, a personnel officer with the Federal Communications Commission at 1919 M St. NW, lives in Fredericksburg and had lived in Warrenton, Front Royal and Charlottesville before his government career took him to Washington to work.

"Sure it's a hardship," Matthews said. "I'd rather be able to come home for lunch and be home at 5:30 p.m., but for economic reasons you have to go where the job is.

"I'm gone for 12 hours and on the bus for 2 1/2 hours, but I want to raise my family in a small town atmosphere.

"With three daughters in school, I'm very concerned about education. Can a parent in Fairfax County call up a school board member? I know all six of ours and see one every Sunday in church. I know principals, I can call the superintendent, and I can call up and talk to the mayor if I want.

"It gives us a chance to be more involved and feel we're having an effect on what happens in our lives," Matthews said.