Early one recent morning, Northern Virginia state Del. Robert T. Andrews called his staff together to tell them how to select witnesses for his bill expanding the use of child-safety car seats. Witnesses, Andrews explained, must convey the "blood and guts" necessary to sway his colleagues, without being "so overzealous you find they've taken the spotlight away."

For Andrews, the search for the spotlight is a never-ending quest. A 63-year-old junior Republican from McLean in a legislature dominated by senior downstate Democrats, Andrews acknowledges he has little influence.

"But I do have good relations with people and I try to be very accessible to Democrats as well as Republicans," said Andrews, a retired Pentagon lawyer who served on President Nixon's Watergate defense team. "Down here, if you do your homework and don't get out too much in front, Republicans can be successful."

A soft-spoken man whose tweed jackets and faintly patrician manner befit a character in a John Cheever novel, Andrews faces the double bind shared by all newcomers to the clubby world of the 140-member General Assembly. To more senior colleagues the second-term delegate must appear inconspicuous and accommodating without allowing himself to be ignored. At the same time, he must convince his constituents--especially in this election year--that he is effective and respected.

As one of 10 Republicans in the 29-member Northern Virginia delegation, Andrews typifies the problems newcomers have establishing themselves in a legislature where longevity is handsomely rewarded. "The old adage 'Children should be seen and not heard' sort of applies," said Del. Warren E. Barry, a Fairfax Republican with 14 years seniority. "It takes about four years before anyone really starts accumulating any power."

Barry and others say Andrews' affable personality, cautious style and moderate political views have won him friends in both parties. Andrews, who supports legalized abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment, shuns his party's right wing and allies himself with Republican and Democratic moderates.

"Bob is well respected as a thinking delegate who's not going to go off on any rash tangents and embarrass Northern Virginia or the party," said Del. James H. Dillard II (R-Fairfax). "That kind of reputation builds up in the long run, so when he introduces bills people don't say, 'There goes that SOB again.' "

Although partisan passions sometimes flare, personal friendships and regional alliances can prove as important to a delegate's legislative career as party affiliation. At the end of a meeting of the Northern Virginia delegation last week, when a Democrat suggested honoring retiring leader Sen. Adelard L. (Abe) Brault, with a round of applause, Andrews clapped enthusiastically. Later, he told his staff he wished he'd proposed the tribute. "That was something I, as a Republican, could have done," he said, momentarily mourning the lost opportunity to score bipartisan points.

"In a lot of ways he's very typical," said State Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, a Fairfax Democrat regarded as a savvy member of the region's delegation. "He's not a hard charger, but he's well liked and not an ideologue and down here those can be the two most valuable weapons. Beyond that, what you accomplish down here depends on the force of your personality. Of course, it's not so much what you do here, but what you do back home that counts."

Andrews, who had difficulty last fall raising money against Democrat Marie Ridder, is particular attentive to voters in his heavily Republican 33rd District, which stretches from elegant riverfront estates in McLean to new subdivisions in eastern Loudoun County. He serves on three committees: Mining, Roads and Conservation, the latter two of which are major concerns in his district.

He has established a special information phone for Loudoun constituents, and issues regular press releases to the seven weekly newspapers in his district. Because Loudoun has a large Mormon population he is arranging to have Jeffrey Willis, the Northern Virginia Mormon bishop who excommunicated feminist Sonia Johnson, say the prayer that precedes House sessions.

His bills reflect the concerns of his district and the influence of his wife, Minerva Wilson Andrews, a prominent Fairfax zoning lawyer and official of the Virginia State Bar Association. Several bills involve technical real estate matters that the bar supports. Another is a crime bill that would permit judges to consider a victim-impact statement along with a defendant's pre-sentence report. He is cosponsoring a bill to exempt the Northern Virginia Audubon Society building from property taxes.

"I'm trying to get the warbler vote," Andrews said half jokingly.

Andrews starts his days at 6:30 a.m., when he leaves his sparsely furnished efficiency apartment a mile from the Capitol for a three-mile run, sometimes accompanied by Del. W. Tayloe Murphy, a downstate Democrat. Andrews generally heads home after attending the lavish receptions held almost nightly for legislators during the session. Sometimes he skips the receptions and returns to his apartment where he opens a can of soup for dinner and relaxes in a hot bath with a copy of "The Sporting News."

Most mornings Andrews arrives at his barren corner office by 8:30 for a staff meeting. One recent morning, Andrews and his aides tried to figure out ways to manuever his bill extending requirements for child safety seats to vehicles operated by day-care centers and nursery schools that regularly transport children under 4.

One Andrews aide is assigned to line up witnesses, another to draft a personal letter to the members of the Roads Commitee. A third is charged with writing letters to the editor of Northern Virginia newspapers urging readers to contact their delegates.

A half hour later, as he runs across the street to the Capitol for a Roads Committee meeting, he frets about his bill. He is afraid the chairman from coal country, Del. Donald A. McGlothlin Sr. (D-Buchanan), no fan of regulation, might send it to a study committee next week, a fate one sympathetic colleague calls "the legislative equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle."

"Maybe I'll just say: 'Don, I've got this little housekeeping bill," Andrews said, slipping into a southern accent as he parodies the phrase some downstate conservatives use when they want to play down controversial legislation. After the meeting, he heads for the House floor, where legislators are trying to get their colleagues to sign their bills. "It reminds me of swapping Valentines in grade school," he said.

At times the ritualistic courtliness of the General Assembly is too much for Andrews, a Pennsylvania native whose ancestor died in a Confederate prison. When freshman Del. George Allen (R-Charlottesville), son of the former Redskins coach, delivered his maiden speech to the House by reciting a poem in honor of Robert E. Lee, Andrews rolled his eyes and amused his seatmate and political mentor, House Minority Leader Vincent F. Callahan Jr., with the following note: "The North at Gettysburg had a George Allen defense."

After a midafternoon sandwich gobbled at his desk, Andrews discovers that his bill requiring signatures on certain real estate documents has been killed in a subcommittee he hadn't even known was meeting.

Del. Bernard S. Cohen (D-Alexandria) has told Andrews he might ask for reconsideration.

Andrews isn't sure whether it's wiser to simply reintroduce the bill next year. "You wet your finger and go talk to some people," he said. "In Virginia, they go very slow."

Nevertheless, Andrews said it's easier being a sophomore than being a freshman. The first time he rose to speak on the floor of the House in opposition to a wiretapping bill, Andrews recalled, Speaker A.L. Philpott archly reminded him that the clerk had not yet finished reading the bill's title. He brightens as he mentions the 60-page summary he compiled after last year's session and mailed to fellow Republicans and the state GOP.

"I got a lot of letters from people thanking me, saying it was a great help last fall during the campaign," he said. "I suppose that helped my image . . . At least they know I'm not the guy who sits in the back of the room and just raises his hand at the right time."