Six supporters greeted J. Marshall Coleman, Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, when he landed at the Tri-Cities Airport here this afternoon.

It was the largest crowd of a daylong, five-stop campaign tour, and the fact that the locale was in neighboring Tennessee did not bother Coleman at all. In fact he began a press conference here by talking about his recent meeting in Washington with Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker of Tennessee.

"A great day" pronounced Coleman as he climbed aboard a twin-engine airplane, donated to his GOP campaign for the day by a supporter. Coleman put the plane to good use, dive-bombing into airport conference rooms in Norfolk, Richmond, Arlington, Roanoke and Bristol -- spots the TV-conscious Coleman knows as Virginia's major "media markets."

A media market is a city that has at least one television station. Whether the television station or the airport that serves it happens to be in another state is of little concern to the airborne politician. Nor does it matter whether the public shows up.

"This trip wasn't designed to see voters," Coleman said. "I assume the voters will see me on the news."

"We hit about two-thirds of them," Coleman said to press aide David Blee after noting that three stations here, two based in Kingsport, Tenn., and another in Bristol, Va., has sent crews to the airport for his press conference.

Unless he was bumped by more pressing news -- unlikely on a muggy July Monday --Coleman had a good chance of being seen tonight on 11 of the 18 television stations in the five cities he visited today.

The stated purpose of Coleman's whirlwind tour was the unveiling of his 16th position paper of the still-young campaign, this one on uniform sentencing of criminals.

Reporters asked some tough questions about his proposal, such as how does he expect a Democrat-controlled legislature to change laws for him when it has not for his Republican predecessor, or what is new about the idea, which he has been propounding for at least four years? Coleman answered each question fully, often at length.

Those often rambling explanations are not likely to be seen on the evening news. By the time controversial portions are being discussed, most of the TV crews either were taking pictures of a reporter, usually their own, asking a question, or rushing from the room to get a shot of the smiling candidate hopping on the airplane for the next stop.

"These guys want 20-second answers to issues that require 20 minutes to explain," Coleman acknowledged.

So what the casual viewer got tonight was likely to be a brief scene in which the reporters announced that the Republican candidate for governor was in town, taking a hard-line on criminals, and attacking his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Charles S. Robb, for dodging the issue.

The traditonal face-to-face contact with the electorate was limited to greeting the handful of supporters who showed up at a couple of the stops and to the nominee announcing "Hi, Marshall Coleman," to an occassionally startled jet-setter in the various airport lounges, some of whom did not recognize either his name or his intention.

In a modern campaign, Coleman said, to make the best use of limited time and money "you've got to do both" media events and traditional campaigning.

While Coleman was buzzing around the state, Robb was preparing for his own, next foray, a motoring tour through Southside Virginia later this week.