Virginia Democrat Andrew P. Miller, in a decision relayed through his campaign manager, has asked former Lt. Gov. Henry E. Howell, the Democratic nominee for governor last year, not to take part this year in Miller's campaign for the U.S. Senate.

Allen Clobridge, Miller's campaign manager, said yesterday that Howell will be free to campaign on his own if he wishes, but will not be scheduled or invited to appear with or for Miller anywhere in the state.

"There are those who think Henry Howell is the greatest person in Virginia and others who don't," Clobridge said. "To have him involved in the campaign would take away from the central issue of who is best qualified to serve in the U.S. Senate."

Howell, whose strident populism has polarized Virginia politics for more than a decade, has offered several times to campaign for Miller, whom he defeated in last year's Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Clobridge has met at least twice with Howell in the past few weeks, according to Norfolk Democrats and Miller staffers, and passed word of the decision last week.

"I think the time has come for all Democrats to come together and participate in the campaign," Howell said yesterday. "Andy Miller has broadened his base and apparently at the moment they don't want to give me an active campaign role. That's their decision and I accept it."

Clobridge said Howell has been told Miller hopes Howell will still "participate in the campaign in a low-key way (by) talking to people he comes in contact with . . . people who look to him for advice."

Howell said he will not "go off on my own and make my own schedule to campaign for him. I don't think that would be appropriate or helpful."

Word of Howell's exclusion from the campaign comes shortly before two campaign events this weekend where the former lieutenant governor is expected to appear - a Democratic fund-raising cruise at Chesapeake Saturday evening and a fund-raising brunch Sunday at the Fairfax County home of State Sen. Clive L. DuVal.

In both cases, according to Miller staffers. Howell was asked to take part by Democratic Party functionaries rather than the Miller staff itself.

Miller's decision - like Howell himself - is clearly a two edged sword in his campaign against Republican John W. Warner. Warner has sought repeatedly to tie Miller to Howell and what many Virginians perceive as the Norfolk Democrat's divisive brand of liberalism.

Warners efforts have continued despite the long record of differences between Howell and Miller, including their bitter primary fight last year.

Last week in Danville Warner told a luncheon crowd that "it has long been (Miller's) stated wish that Henry Howell be governor of Virginia."

Whether Miller's decision will spike the Warner efforts is by no means clear.

It is not expected to help Miller in Norfolk, however, where Democratic workers have recently voiced concern over both party apathy and the lack of money for voter registration drives from the Miller campaign.

Virginia Democrats have historically looked to Norfolk and the other five Hampton Roads cities. Northern Virginia and Southwest Virginia for large vote margins with which to offset a heavy Republican vote in Southside Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley and - in particular - the ultra-conservative suburban counties around Richmond.

Clobridge, some Norfolk Democrats say, has had difficulty forming an effective liaison with party leaders in Tidewater who have turned out an immense black and blue collar vote for Howell in the past.

Though they say Miller is virtually certain to carry the area, he appears unlikely now to do by the typical Howell margins. The real question, they say, is the size of the Norfolk area turnout.

The Miller decision, however, has evidently been in preparation for some time.

Just Monday Miller press secretary John Durst told a reporter: "You are going to see very shortly a formalization of the relationship between Henry Howell and Andrew Miller."