Last January, just before the Virginia General Assembly began wrestling with the prickly task of redrawing political boundaries in accord with the 1980 Census, state Sen. Charles L. Waddell, a Loudoun County Democrat, offered a prediction in a letter to his constituents:

"There's going to be a lot of blood left on the floor of the General Assembly . . . before it's all over."

Waddell's prediction proved an understatement. But what surprised Waddell was that the blood shed over redistricting did not belong to Northern Virginians, as it traditionally has.

If the plans passed last week in Richmond survive challenges in the Justice Department and federal courts which killed two previous plans this year, Northern Virginia should have more political muscle in the General Assembly than ever before.

Washington area legislators say the two more House seats awarded Fairfax County were deserved because of population increases. But they also say that numbers alone are no guarantee of equity in Richmond, particularly when the stakes are as high as they are during redistricting fights.

"Northern Virginia has always been cheated," said Del. Mary Marshall (D-Arlington) last week after the General Assembly drew up its latest redistricting scheme by tinkering with boundaries in almost every part of the state except Northern Virginia. "We were just determined that wasn't going to happen again."

The strategy for the Northern Virginia delegation was to set aside partisan interests and personal feuds to present a united front on the issue of adding the Fairfax seats. A decade earlier, Fairfax lost a House seat considered its due when Norfolk successfully argued in court that sailors whose ships are based in that city should be counted as Norfolk residents.

"We had to take an oath from time to time to support our plan," said Marshall, who said the uncharacteristic unity among the 19 House members from the Washington suburbs was maintained through a political tradeoff. The delegation let it be known that it would not enter into an alliance with legislators from other regions of the state as long as Northern Virginia's was left alone.

Without the Northern Virginia delegation -- the largest single bloc of votes in the legislature -- in the negotiations over redistricting, the disputes were left to downstate city and rural delegations.

The Northern Virginia strategy worked. While delegations from other parts of the state attacked each other's plans with sharp pencils, Northern Virginia's legislators sat far from the fray.

"We've never been able to figure out what to do when we're not in a fight," said Marshall this week. "It seems odd to be a spectator."

During the brawling, redistricting fights in the state during the last three decades, Northern Virginia has always been at the center of events. In 1952, Fairfax Del. Edwin Lynch was so upset over the proposed reapportionment that he stormed out of the Capitol and later resigned.

At that time, Fairfax County and Falls Church, which had a combined population of 106,000 were given one House delegate -- the same representation enjoyed by rural counties with populations of 14,000.

Alexandria Del. Armistead L. Boothe said the 1952 redistricting plan was an attempt "to keep voting power in the hands of the men who milk the cows and feed the hogs."

After the 1962 reapportionment, four Northern Virginia legislators filed a suit against Virginia that wound up before the U.S. Supreme Court three years later. The Court ruled in favor of Northern Virginia. At the same time, the court issued its landmark "one man one vote" ruling in a Tennessee case. The decision helped dismantle the Byrd political machine, which had dominated the state for half a century through disproportionate representation in the state's rural areas.