Virginia Del. Vivian E. Watts' surprise decision to accept a state cabinet post in Richmond has touched off a scramble among Fairfax County Democrats and Republicans eager to fill her seat in the General Assembly.

With a special election possible as early as Jan. 14, members of both parties said yesterday that they were still sorting out the possible candidates.

The list of prospects for Watts' 39th House District seat in the Annandale area ranged from Fairfax County Supervisor Audrey Moore on the Democratic side to Robert E. (Lee) Murphy, who lost handily to Watts in November, on the Republican.

Gov. Charles S. Robb, now vacationing in Texas, is expected to set a date by the end of the week for the special election to fill Watts' seat. The earliest the balloting could be held, state election officials said, is Tuesday, Jan. 14.

Moore acknowledged yesterday that she had been approached by party members, but discounted the possibility that she would relinquish her County Board seat in a bid to succeed Watts, who was named Monday by Gov.-elect Gerald L. Baliles as state secretary of transportation and public safety.

"I like it where I am," said Moore, who is regarded as something of a maverick on the board. "I'm not interested in running for the House of Delegates."

Because of Moore's apparent unwillingness to make the race, the two Democrats prompting the most serious speculation were James McConville and Val S. McWhorter, both lawyers and members of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee.

McConville said in an interview that he was "very interested" in making the race. McWhorter has been instrumental in state Sen. Richard L. Saslaw's campaigns and is thought to have Saslaw's backing for the Democratic nod. He could not be reached for comment.

Other Democrats mentioned as possible candidates include Penny Anderson, who helped run Baliles' campaign in Northern Virginia; Alan Mayer, a member of the Fairfax County Park Authority; Ernie Lotito of Annandale, and David Russell of the Fairfax County Water Authority.

Pat Watt, chairman of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee and a former candidate for county board chairman, also is receiving consideration among Democrats. Watt, who recently moved out of Watts' district, said that she was considering the race and could return to the district in time for the special election.

Although characterizing her possible candidacy as a "longshot" one, she said: "I haven't closed off that option entirely."

Watts, who has served in the House since 1982, said 39th District Democrats will probably caucus Monday night to select a candidate.

On the Republican side, Murphy, who lost to Watts less than two months ago by a wide margin, said his "inclination" is to try again, but that he won't make a decision until he assesses the field of Republican candidates.

And that field is surprisingly large, according to Joanne McMurray, chairman of the 39th District Republican Committee.

"I had no idea I'd have candidates coming out of the woodwork like this," McMurray said. "There's going to be no problem having a choice."

Among the Republicans who have expressed interest in the race are Robert Dively Jr., a member of the GOP's 39th District Committee, P.J. Kirk, Louis Guy and Robert Brostrom.

McMurray said she was prepared to tap Murphy as the candidate until the others began emerging. Now, McMurray said, she probably will throw the choice open to the District's GOP members at a caucus.