Waitresses circulated with carafes of wine and guests picked at cheese and other tidbits from trays -- a typical Washington scene at another political fund-raising event.

For Virginia state Sen. L. Douglas Wilder of Richmond, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, it was his second foray into Washington, the most Democratic city in the nation with its potential motherlode of money and support for his fledgling campaign.

Wilder, seeking to become Virginia's first black lieutenant governor, drew an integrated crowd of about 70 persons last Thursday to the home of Chauncey S. Thomas in Northwest Washington's 16th Street community of mostly black middle and upper income residents.

Although little money was actually raised, Wilder's campaign consultant, Paul Goldman, said it was a get-acquainted session that could reap dividends in Wilder's battle this fall against Republican John H. Chichester, a state senator from Fredericksburg.

Most of the District's top Democrats -- Mayor Marion Barry, Council Chairman David A. Clarke and 10 of 12 other council members -- have endorsed Wilder and lent their names to the party last week, although few attended. Barry hosted a party of organized-labor supporters last month for Wilder, who has been endorsed by the Virginia AFL-CIO.

D.C. Democratic Chairman James Christian, at-large council member Betty Ann Kane and Joseph Yeldell, a Barry confidante, mingled last week with the crowd that heard Wilder's standard pitch for money and support.

"Don't vote for or support me for any other reason than I am qualified," Wilder told the crowd, which included Fairfax County party Chairman Pat Watt.

Wilder recounted his 15 years in the state Senate where he is considered one of the most powerful of the 40 senators. "Now you don't just stumble on those things," he said.

And he recalled that when he announced last July "some people said, 'No way.' " When he neared the nomination, Wilder said, "People said, 'No way.' "

Now, as he heads into the fall as an admitted underdog, Wilder said he is still hearing "no way" from some. "We still say, 'Yes, we can,' " Wilder said to applause. "We will persist until we succeed."

Despite the upbeat party -- and it is too early to tell whether the D.C. Democrats will get involved in a race across the Potomac -- the Wilder campaign knows it is being closely watched by politicians around the state to see whether he can raise the money to establish a credible campaign that will draw even more support. He has raised about $200,000.

Although Wilder and Goldman have not announced a fund-raising goal, most politicians and consultants say it could take as much as $1 million to run a successful campaign.

They recall the disastrous race for the U.S. Senate last year in which Democrat Edythe C. Harrison failed to establish her campaign's credibility by raising about $700,000. She was trounced by incumbent Republican John W. Warner who won with 70 percent of the vote.

This year's Nov. 5 race for governor is expected to cost each candidate about $3 million. Chichester and the candidates for state attorney general in both parties say their campaigns may each cost as much as $1 million.

"The only ink and media you can control is that what you pay for," Wilder told the D.C. crowd last week, emphasizing the role money can play.

Wilder insisted at the Washington party that he wants his election to be more than "what it means to a special group of people" but for the entire state. "Any investment in me will not be an unwise one," he said.

Wilder's willingness to go to the District -- seen as overwhelmingly liberal and too black by many of Virginia's conservatives -- is itself a gamble. But the potential payoff from the dozens of national groups in Washington, as well as the residents, many of whom have family, church and business friends in Virginia, could make the risk worth it.