John W. Warner, Virginia Republican U.S. Senate candidate, said yesterday that he opposes voting representation in Congress for the District of Columbia and would favor giving the city back to Maryland if it is ever proposed.

Answering questions at a lunch with editors and reporters of The Washington Post, Warner said, "My approach to D.C. is in the historical context going back to 1846 when the Virginia part of the District in Arlington and Alexandria was ceded back to Virginia."

Warner said he will urge Virginia legislators to vote against ratification of the proposed constitutional amendment giving the District two voting senators and House representation. But he added, "If you come up with the idea that it (the city) be shifted back to Maryland, I'll be for it."

During the long debate over Washington's political status, neither District Columbia nor Maryland offcials have pushed for retrocession of the city to the state. When the Senate adopted the proposed constitutional amendment last month, opponents tried to change it to let Washington residents vote for Maryland senators. That effort failed, 46 to 36.

Warner's opposition to voting representation for Washington is consistent with the majority view of the state's congressional delegation. Both incumbent senators and eight of its 10 House members voted against the proposed amendment. Warner's senate opponent, Democrat Andrew P. Miller, also opposed it.

Warner, who succeeded the late Richard D. Obenshain as the Republican nominee on Aug. 12, said he now perceives himself "as just a little bit behind" Miller in the race, but "with much more momentum than Andy has."

As evidence that he is gaining on Miller, Warner cited a Thursday night meeting in Richmond of conservative political figures and campaign contributors, including former Democrats, who are being courted by Warner backers.

Saying they were Miller's people, "people who have been around him for years," he contended. "They wouldn't be coming to me if they didn't have a deep suspicion . . . about what does he really believe."

Asked his own view of Miller, Warner said, "I don't know that much about him." At another point, however, he characterized him as a "political animal who always seems to jump, to calculate the risks." He said he thinks Virginia conservatives view Miller as "left of center."

Miller is usually labeled a moderate-conservative in his own party and in this campaign has formed his own group of conservative backers, called Virginians for Miller, to demonstrate that he can draw the strong conservative faction that has contributed to Republican victories in recent statewide elections.

As a Republican Party leader, Obenshain played a mojor role in putting their first seasons of varsity football together conservative coalitions behind GOP candidates. The ability of Warner to overcome his image as a member of the Washington establishment and hold onto the Virginia conservative vote is considered a major element in this campaign.

Warner said in answer to questions yesterday that he will press the tested Virginia theme of cutting federal spending, but called himself a "realist" when it comes to eliminating federal deficits.

Asked if proposals for deep slashes - perhaps 30 percent - in federal spending are not "the Virginia way," he replied:

"It may be the Virginia way . . . but I've spent too long up here in this bureaucracy and know that you are not going to do that."

Warner estimated that his campaign spending will not exceed $1 million and insisted that he will not put large amounts of his own money into the race. Warner contributed more than $400,000 to his campaign for the nominations, which he had narrowly lost to Obenshain at he state GOP convention in June.

Obenshain was killed in an Aug. 2 plane crash and Warner was then nominated by the party central committee.