Republican gubernatorial hopefuls are stumbling over each other to tout their ties to Northern Virginia, a far cry from the days when the Washington suburbs were considered an alien -- and inhospitable -- land by most Virginia politicians.

Now the wealthy and fast-growing suburbs are viewed as important and friendly home bases for Republicans seeking statewide office. All three men eyeing the 1985 race are claiming firm roots in the Washington suburbs, a fact that may reflect what some say is the Virginia GOP's recognition that its conservative philosophy can be certain to win strong support in populous areas like Fairfax County.

No other area of Virginia, except perhaps the Richmond suburbs, can offer the GOP margins as wide as those Fairfax has offered.

Wyatt B. Durrette, who formally declared for the governor's race Tuesday, represented northern Fairfax County for six years in the General Assembly and was an attorney in Vienna before moving to Richmond.

Rep. Stan Parris, who declared last week, is the 8th District congressman and former Fairfax supervisor and legislator, and he has been active in Fairfax County politics for more than two decades.

And J. Marshall Coleman, the former attorney general and a 1981 Republican gubernatorial candidate, is a Washington attorney and lives in McLean. Coleman said he will decide during the next few weeks whether to run for governor or lieutenant governor.

Local Republicans say that the Northern Virginia connections are a mixed blessing. On the one hand, whomever is nominated will be well versed in the aches and ills of the Washington area.

On the other hand, many local Republicans find themselves having to choose between longtime colleagues and, in some cases, personal friends.

"It's a tough decision for Fairfax County. There are three very able-bodied men, all with strong ties to the area," said Fairfax County Sheriff M. Wayne Huggins.

Huggins said he has lined up with Durrette. "He and I are personal friends. His wife and my wife are personal friends." But he said he had also worked with Parris, and added quickly: "My endorsement of Wyatt in no way is meant to diminish either Stan or Marshall."

Another longtime personal friend of Durrette, Rep. Frank R. Wolf, came out early for Durrette. Wolf, who represents Arlington, Loudoun and northern Fairfax counties and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, said, "Wyatt has been the master of ceremonies to every campaign kickoff I've had."

And Fairfax County Supervisor Thomas Davis, who worked as a legislative aide for Durrette in the General Assembly in 1974, is heading Durrette's 10th District campaign effort.

But some former colleagues are, for now, staying out of the fray. House Minority Leader Vincent F. Callahan of McLean, a Fairfax delegate who has been active in previous Durrette campaigns, says he has not decided where to throw his support.

And Fairfax Del. James H. Dillard, who was Durrette's deskmate for six years in the House of Delegates, says he will support either Coleman or Parris, but not his former ally. Dillard, a moderate, said he and other Fairfax Republicans are concerned by what they perceived as a switch in Durrette's political stripes from moderate to conservative during the mid-1970s, when he decided to run for statewide office. Durrette has said that he never changed his philosophy.

Fairfax County Clerk of the Court Warren E. Barry is in the Parris camp, while a significant number of GOP officials say they are neutral.

"I have a lot of people supporting all three candidates," said Fairfax County Chairman Benton Partin, who has not endorsed anyone.

Fairfax County Board Chairman John F. Herrity said he plans to remain neutral until a candidate is chosen, although his top aide, Robert Foreman, is working for Durrette.

With the jumble of ties, alliances and friendships, few venture to predict who will eventually carry the Northern Virginia areas. Callahan said it now appears to stack up like this: "Parris is the local boy. He is the best known in Northern Virginia. Durrette is probably the strongest among potential delegates to the nominating convention . . . . Coleman is well known among the general public, but his strength among delegates is not as great."

But Callahan agreed with those who said that it is simply too early to make any predictions. "We just finished an election three weeks ago. Let's let people rest a while and enjoy Thanksgiving and the Christmas holiday."