Here's a test:

Can you name the five Republicans -- three from Northern Virginia -- who are running for lieutenant governor this year?

And who's ahead?

"If you're not involved in the process, it is very difficult to tell," said State Sen. John Chichester (R-Fredericksburg), who joined his Republican rivals and the lone Democrat who are seeking the office at a luncheon with reporters here this week.

The six politicians ranged widely on political views but generally agreed with Chichester that it's anyone's guess who'll win the nomination at the GOP's state convention May 31 in Norfolk.

Democratic State Sen. L. Douglas Wilder of Richmond, the only Democratic candidate, expects to get his party's nomination at its convention in Richmond June 7.

Although key decisions are being made now for a general election that is still eight months away, the GOP campaign for the second spot draws little interest from the casual voter -- and with good reason.

It's almost incomprehensible except to party regulars.

Richard A. Viguerie of McLean (that's two on the Republican side, if you're keeping count) said the GOP's nomination process "borders on the scandalous," an obscure series of so-called public mass meetings in which people pay a fee to vote.

The mass meetings can be called on short notice at the whim of local party officials, who need only run a legal advertisement, a process that effectively gives minimal publicity about the meetings.

And except in some specific cases, the delegates aren't required by party rules to vote at the convention for the candidate they supported at the mass meetings. It's a procedure that leaves a lot of room for horsetrading.

"I think it's wrong," said Viguerie, a surprise entry into the campaign. He said the "system is tailor-made to keep it closed" to a few thousand party regulars.

Viguerie, a leader in this country's New Right movement for years, publisher of a conservative magazine and acknowledged master fund raiser for conservative causes through direct mail, insisted that "I am not a politician. I am a businessman," and he cast himself as an outsider determined to bring people into the party. He said he would use the lieutenant governor's office as a "bully pulpit" to promote conservative views.

The nominating process for the lieutenant governor candidates is complicated by actions taken at the top of the ticket between gubernatorial candidates Wyatt B. Durrette of Richmond and 8th District Rep. Stan Parris. About one-third of the delegates have been chosen, with Durrette given a substantial but early lead that could change.

The gubernatorial campaigns spark the most delegate interest, so the lieutenant governor hopefuls spend a lot of time trying to piggyback on those efforts.

Former attorney general J. Marshall Coleman (that's three for the GOP), also of McLean, said there is really no way to tell who has the most support without an expensive and time-consuming poll of the almost 10,000 persons who may end up going to the convention.

But Coleman noted that about 70 percent of the delegates who are expected to attend this year's convention have participated in previous conventions, a statistic that he says should help his campaign.

Coleman, the GOP's unsuccessful candidate for governor in 1981, has statewide name recognition, experience and a confident manner that almost automatically makes him a front-runner in the lieutenant governor pack.

Washington lobbyist Maurice Dawkins of Springfield (that's four if you're still counting), a little-known businessman who has said he doesn't expect to win but is running to draw blacks into the Republican Party, is about the only candidate virtually everyone agrees will not be nominated.

The fifth candidate is state Del. A.R. (Pete) Geisen, a personable Republican from mountainous Augusta County with 20 years of experience in the state legislature. Geisen says his nomination would bring geographic balance to the GOP ticket.

Many politicians believe Geisen hopes to emerge at the convention as a compromise candidate should the others falter.

"That's the beauty of it," Geisen said of the nominating process that he says right now would go to yet another candidate, "Mr. Undecided."