The strategy of the Virginia elections can be seen in the billboards that dot Chesterfield County, the fast-growing, heavily Republican suburb south of here. The GOP signs promote all three members of the state ticket, while the Democrats appear to be largely advertising only their gubernatorial nominee, Gerald L. Baliles.

"You wouldn't know there was an election for the second two spots," said Robert Quarles, the GOP chairman in Chesterfield. He said the Democrats are trying to get voters to ignore state Sen. L. Douglas Wilder, the party's nominee for lieutenant governor, and Mary Sue Terry, its nominee for state attorney general.

"Their signs and literature are strictly Baliles," complained Quarles, a retired banker. "He's trying to run alone, and hide from his running mates, particularly from the ultraliberal for lieutenant governor."

And voters in Chesterfield County, Quarles said, are "very conservative."

Chesterfield's Democratic chairman, Robert Shepherd Jr., counters that Democrats here are not attempting to shield either Wilder or Terry. "Some people might wonder, if Doug is elected, will he hold all three offices, because all three Republicans seem to be running against him," Shepherd said.

Random interviews with several dozen registered voters in the Richmond suburbs and a recent Washington Post poll indicate that the region, long regarded as one of the state's most Republican areas, may not be as monolithically conservative as Quarles and others suggest.

Kathryn Bradley, a Henrico County resident, said that in previous state elections she has done what the GOP has urged longtime Democrats to do: split her ticket between Democratic and Republican candidates. But on Tuesday, Bradley said, she will vote for all three Democrats seeking state office because "they have the experience."

Her husband, the Rev. Walter Bradley, a Southern Baptist minister, said he has been "particularly impressed with the girl running for attorney general" and also will vote for the three Democrats.

Tom Byers, a member of Machinists Local 10 at the huge Philip Morris plant here, initially expressed dissatisfaction with both tickets. "They're both more or less against working people, supporting that damned Virginia right-to-work law," he said, referring to the state law that forbids requiring union membership as a condition of employment.

But under prodding from his wife, Sally, Byers said he will vote Democratic. "At least with the Democrats, there's hope," Sally Byers said.

"There's only one to help us in the bunch, that's the black one," her husband said, alluding to Wilder.

Given the voting record of the Richmond suburbs, those solidly Democratic views may surprise many.

Conventional political wisdom here is that Republicans try to hold their losses to a minimum in the city of Richmond; offset that deficit in Henrico County, which wraps around the city north of the James River, and then pile it on south of the James in Chesterfield. The three jurisdictions, which make up the state's 3rd Congressional District, are about equal in population.

Four years ago, when Democrats swept all three offices statewide, only the Shenandoah Valley's 7th District provided a better showing for the GOP. Democratic Gov. Charles S. Robb carried the 3rd, although by the slimmest of margins.

Part of the usual Republican edge here may be offset this time because both Baliles and Wilder live here and have represented the area in the legislature. When Baliles beat Durrette for attorney general in 1981, he carried the area by nearly 3 percentage points, running ahead of Robb.

Democratic chairman Shepherd said the so-called yuppie vote here was important in helping roll up huge margins for Reagan in the 1984 presidential election -- 80 percent in Chesterfield.

"They're not Republicans, but basically independents who are economic conservatives and moderate to liberal on social issues," Shepherd said. "This Republican campaign has backfired with them."

The young professionals who have settled here as the region's new industries have boomed "don't like to be stereotyped as being from the Old South" and are troubled that some former segregationists have been in the fore of the Durrette campaign and leading the attacks on Wilder, Shepherd said.

The region does have a large number of solidly Republican conservatives and the allegiance of many does not seem to be in question this year.

Kenneth Reams, 68, of Midlothian, a suburb west of Richmond, said: "I'm solid for conservative issues. We've got to quit giving away everything this country makes, to its own people and abroad."

Kitty Boone, a Henrico nurse and former Democrat, said she will vote "straight Republican," something she has done "since Jimmy Carter made such a mess of things."

Waverly Jones, 35, an insurance agent who lives in South Richmond, said he will vote for Durrette "because the Democrats are a little bit liberal with money," but will vote for Wilder, "mainly because he's black like me," and for Terry "because W.R. (Buster) O'Brien her GOP opponent has disappeared."

Republicans are working hard here to portray Baliles as a "big-spending, national Democrat." Rep. Thomas Bliley, a former Richmond mayor, has taken to the air with radio ads that carry the message that Baliles "disgarees with President Reagan."

Tying Durrette to Reagan may be paying off here. Eddie R. Jones, a retired firefighter from Mechanicsville, noted that the president has made TV commercials for Durrette. "If Ronnie says do it, I will," he said. "It's that pure and simple."

Richmond's daily newspapers, the Times-Dispatch and News Leader, both of which are conservative, have endorsed Durrette for governor and his running mate, state Sen. John H. Chichester of Stafford County, for lieutenant governor.

The newspapers said their reasoning was simply that they preferred the GOP, as they have in past elections.

While much of the political talk here is about philosophy, other issues are mentioned.

A black woman, Lola Brooke, a department store clerk, said she will vote for Baliles and Wilder but said she is "not ready" to vote for a woman because of "what happened with the vice president last year," an allusion to Geraldine Ferraro's ill-fated run as the Democratic vice presidential nominee.

William Taylor, 57, of Chesterfield, said a lot of his neighbors complain that their commutes to downtown Richmond are so bad that it is "like driving in Washington, D.C., every day." A ballot question in Chesterfield would provide money for extension of a major highway here.

Although most people say traffic jams are nonpartisan, or think Democrats should be blamed because they currently control the state highway department, some enterprising Democrats in Chesterfield County have seized on a remark Durrette made in the Washington suburbs.

A sign, strategically placed on a Chesterfield commuter road where rush-hour traffic backs up every weekday morning, says: "You don't know what a traffic jam is unless you've been in Northern Virginia. -- Wyatt Durrette, Sept. 17, 1985.