RICHMOND -- Back in 1988, automobile dealer Donald S. Beyer Jr. told a Northern Virginia television reporter that he wanted to be lieutenant governor. The journalist made her own assessment of his prospects: Fat chance.

Such pessimism about Beyer was the norm among political reporters at the time, but cable television personality Megan Carroll's perspective on the situation was different. She was married to the candidate.

The skeptical spouse made a generous offer: "I said, 'That's great, honey, I'll vote for you.' "

Don Beyer today is the second-ranking official in Virginia government. And the professional fortunes of his wife, who appears on television in Richmond and nationwide as Megan Beyer, haven't been hindered by her poor performance in forecasting the lieutenant governor's race.

To the contrary, husband and wife are on a roll, both enjoying career advances in front of a rapidly expanding audience. In an era of two-career couples, they have managed to balance their ambitions to mutual gain -- although this marriage of politics and journalism has raised an ethical quandary of its own.

In Fairfax County, at least, Megan Beyer has been a recognizable personality longer than her husband has. For five years, she was a reporter and anchorwoman for Media General's cable newscast, "The Fairfax Evening Report," seen in thousands of Northern Virginia households.

After Don Beyer stunned the prophets of conventional wisdom in the media and elsewhere last spring by winning the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, Megan Beyer resigned from "The Evening Report" to help campaign. When he pulled another upset by beating state Sen. Edwina P. "Eddy" Dalton in the general election, Megan Beyer faced a decision about how to pursue her own career.

She opted to stay in television journalism, and appears regularly for two news organizations: WTVR, a local station in the state capital, and cable's ESPN, for which she reports stories on the financial world for a program called "Nation's Business Today."

Despite the flood of attention and scheduling demands that have come about since Don Beyer's election, Megan Beyer, who turned 33 Tuesday, said, "I'm really glad that I've been able to maintain my own {career} role, to remain my own individual."

Pursuing a career is hard enough in any profession, but it has been harder in journalism. Inevitably, she said, her marriage to a prominent politician has led people to call her objectivity -- and that of her employers -- into question.

At a recent meeting of a Richmond press club, she recalled, reporters and editors grilled her on the potential conflict. She said she shares their concern, but thinks she and her bosses have reached an accommodation that will keep both her and the priests of journalistic ethics satisfied.

At WTVR, for example, Beyer's stories, called "Virginia Profiles," are softer features about personalities off the beaten path. She stays far away from political stories, and doesn't participate in the story conferences during which reporters and producers plan broadcasts.

"I was convinced I could carve out a niche where I wouldn't be constantly crashing into Don," she said. "I think I've done that."

Colleagues have used humor to deal with the ticklish situation. One afternoon in the newsroom, she overheard the anchorman practicing a promotional teaser for that night's broadcast. "Exclusive video of Don Beyer's hand in the till," the anchorman said. "Join us at six . . . . "

Megan Beyer, who grew up in Alexandria, met her husband as a reporter when he was working as a top official in Gerald L. Baliles' successful 1985 campaign for governor. Several months after the election, a chance meeting at a party led to a date at the movies the next night, and a date at the altar the next year.

Since the election, the Beyers have kept their house in Vienna and bought a condominium in Richmond's Fan District. They split their time between the cities -- "Two jobs, two houses, two of everything," she said.

Although Megan Beyer stays away from politics on the air, she doesn't do so on her own time. During her sabbatical from journalism last fall, her cheerful, energetic personality made her an effective surrogate on the campaign trail. She spent most of her time in rural areas, where she and her cohorts would roam the countryside driving toward radio towers, offering interviews with the candidate's wife.

Additionally, Megan Beyer has taken on several community jobs that have come her way as the lieutenant governor's wife. An example is her leading a fund-raising committee for Wolf Trap Farm Park.

The outgoing, relaxed style of both Beyers has made them familiar figures in widely diverse quarters of Richmond's political and social scene. After a black-tie event a few months ago, the Beyers made an 11 p.m. appearance at a beer-and-blue-jeans party thrown by a group of young staff members for Gov. L. Douglas Wilder. While the lieutenant governor drank a draft in the hall, Megan Beyer danced to Motown music for an hour in the living room.

On a recent trip to New Orleans for a convention of the Democratic Leadership Council, the Beyers teamed up with a handful of Virginia political reporters for a night on the town that ended by stumbling -- unintentionally, according to the Beyers and the reporters -- into a bawdy French Quarter joint featuring female wrestlers.

Whatever doubts some may have about Megan Beyer's twin roles as a journalist and political helpmate, her husband thinks the two jobs have a synergy, each allowing her to be more effective in the other.

The past year "has been really good for her in terms of personal growth," Don Beyer said. "The professional work she's doing now is better than anything I've seen her do before."