John S. Buckley's conservatism was born in the early 1970s, when he was a teenager growing up in New Orleans. He got mad at welfare chiselers and saw liberals as smug do-gooders who didn't understand what made America great.

Now Buckley, who was elected Nov. 6 as one of five delegates representing nearly 300,000 voters in Northern Virginia, is preparing to take his conservative fervor to Richmond.

At 26 -- Thomas Jefferson's age when he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses -- Buckley will be the youngest lawmaker in the General Assembly, long known as a bastion of aging white men with a reputation for passing conservative legislation.

But the cousin of columnist William F. Buckley Jr. does not find the General Assembly too conservative.

"The status quo in Virginia is too liberal," says Buckely, a Republican who spent nearly 10 months and more than $26,500 to win a seat with a salary of $8,000 a year.

Buckley's victory on his first attempt for elective office came as a shock to many politicians in Northern Virignia, where it generally has been accepted that an unknown candidate -- especially a neophyte like Buckley -- has to run twice before he can hope to get the name recognition needed to win.

But Buckley, who was graduated from the University of Virginia in 1975 with a BA in government and politics, bucked the conventional wisdom by the shrewdest use of direct-mail campaigning ever seen in a local legislative race. s

"Name recognition is a substantial part of these contests," says Buckley, referring to his race in northern Fairfax County's 18th District, where 10 relatively unknown candidates struggled for voter attention. "My ideal would have been to mail to every voter."

Buckley didn't send letters to all 145,000 registered voters in the 18th District, but he did the next best thing. He visited his old friend Richard A. Viguerie, the direct-mail master who operates a multimillion-dollar-a-year business in Falls Church.

Viguerie and Buckley met when Buckley was attending the university in Charlottesville. Buckley then was national chairman of Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative group Viguerie helped direct. The young Buckley and the wizard of direct-mail campaigning found they shared a common interest in limiting the role of government and strengthening the national defense.

This spring, Buckley went to Viguerie and told him he was running for the House of Delegates. In the fall, Viguerie's IBM computers churned out 40,000 letters telling voters that a young man named Buckley wanted to go to Richmond and cut their taxes.

Viguerie's gift of direct-mail servces, valued at $5,000, was the largest single donation to Buckley's campaign.

Buckley, who lives alone in a Vienna townhouse, also received contributions from his famous cousin ($250), Americans United Against Union Control of Government ($300), the Republican National Committee ($500) and brewer Joseph Coors ($200), a well-known conservative.

With the money, Buckley rented a computer list of names of Republican-leaning voters from the Virginia Republican Committee and mailed out another 9,000 letters. Just before the election, in areas he considered crucial, Buckley mailed out 20,000 postcards.

Because of the mailings and his good showings at public forums before the election -- where the candidate proved himself articulate and attractive -- Buckley says he wasn't surprised when he won.

One of the candidates Buckley defeated, however, was surprised to lose.

Kenneth R. Plum, an incumbent Democratic delegate who spent only a third as much as Buckley on the campaign, said he lost "because the young man had a lot of money to spend."

In retrosepct, Plum said, the "crushing difference" in the race was that Buckley's money (and the Viguerie donation) allowed the Republican to lodge his name in voters' minds.

But Plum claims the name-recognition strategy has deceived voters, that Buckley is far more conservative than most Northern Virginians.

"He is a tax-cutter who will hurt services in Northern Virginia," says Plum. "This state's problem is not high taxes. The problem in this region is getting our tax money back from Richmond in the form of services."

While several area Republicans agree with Plum, saying that Buckley is far to the right of most Northern Virginians, the young delegate-elect says his victory is a "vindication of the conservative trend."

Buckley points to Republican victories across Fairfax County, where the GOP picked up three delegate seats from the Democrats. (The Northern Virginia delegation to the General Assembly, however, still is dominated by Democrats, who hold 17 seats to the Republicans' 10.)

When he gets to Richmond, Buckley says he will work with other conservatives to reduce the state's role in education and constrict government involvement in the lives of Virginians.

"There's been a tendency in our political bodies to always do somthing," Buckley says. "Doing something is often worse than doing nothing."

The young conservative, however, admits that he will have to do something in Richmond to help reduce the size of state government.

His test, he says, will be learning how things work down there quickly enough to help stop creeping government expansion.