Conservative direct-mail king Richard Viguerie, who surprised the Virginia GOP this week by saying he may run for lieutenant governor next year, found his reception from key party leaders here this weekend as cold as the icy temperatures of this Shenandoah Valley town.

"I haven't found that much excitement for him ," huffed former Republican governor John N. Dalton, who said Viguerie's conservatism could not make up for the anger left behind by his third-party bid for vice president in 1976, which Dalton said hurt Republicans.

The cool reaction from Dalton, one of the state party's most popular and powerful figures, could signal trouble for Viguerie, who, though well known nationally because of his Falls Church direct-mail organization, has never participated in state party politics.

Dalton, who spurned near-unanimous party appeals to run for governor again, has publicly avoided criticizing other candidates. "You've got to understand where we're coming from," Dalton sternly told Viguerie as they stood in a crowded reception room. Dalton stopped talking when a reporter approached.

"You're interrupting a hell of an argument," a Viguerie supporter commented.

Dalton was in Staunton for a Republican Central Committee meeting of about 150 party officials to set rules for delegate selection to the party's nominating convention in May. The meeting drew about a dozen other announced and unannounced candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.

The Democrats, who were meeting in Richmond this weekend, are expected to nominate L. Douglas Wilder, a black state senator from Richmond, for lieutenant governor.

"I expected some of this," Viguerie said, referring to Dalton's slap at his status in the state party. Viguerie was hosting a hospitality suite in the GiGi Room of the Ingleside Inn here.

Viguerie, 51, who has made his reputation as a fund-raiser for hard-line political conservatives and as publisher of the Conservative Digest, said that whether he runs or not he will establish a political action committee in the state.

It will channel money and support to Republican candidates for delegates to the Virginia House, he said, where the party holds 34 of 100 seats.

First Congressional District Chairman Dudley Lewis of Williamsburg said that would help Viguerie win respect in the party, but Lewis suggested that Viguerie may be too conservative even for the largely conservative state party.

Republicans view Viguerie's potential candidacy as a wild card because he has a mailing list of 70,000 Virginia conservatives who have contributed to various causes.

It is uncertain how many of them would come to the mass meetings used instead of a primary for the state's nominating process.

Former Republican state attorney general J. Marshall Coleman, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1981, has announced for lieutenant governor.

State Sen. John Chichester of Frederick and state Del. A.R. (Pete) Giesen of Augusta County are expected to announce soon. Maurice Dawkins, a black Washington consultant who lives in Springfield, also is running.

While Viguerie held forth in the GiGi room, 8th District Rep. Stan Parris of Fairfax was busy promoting his campaign for governor.

Parris, who promised a bold and expensive run to overtake the campaign of Richmond lawyer and front-runner Wyatt B. Durrette, rented the entire Upstairs Lounge, a bright splash of red and black leatherette, where aides offered free drinks to all comers.

While Parris' aides said he spent $4,000 arranging for the campaign outing, it fell short of the blitz they had promised. Instead of 150 supporters, there were about 30. And a plan to run campaign spots on local television was scrapped.

Today, as Parris headed home, he said the weekend effort, complete with a five-piece orchestra, had exposed his campaign to many party leaders for the first time. "I think we accomplished our mission," he said, playing down the weaker-than-expected showing.