RICHMOND -- Attorney General Mary Sue Terry should be favored for the 1993 Democratic nomination for governor if only because she stepped aside two years ago for the successful candidacy of then-Lt. Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, allowing the party to avoid a pernicious primary.

But the results of a new survey must be unsettling for Terry. It is bad enough that in a biennial survey of the effectiveness of 35 state officials that Terry slipped from eighth in 1989 to 14th this year.

What's more troubling for Terry is that Lt. Gov. Donald S. Beyer Jr., the most likely, if not only, roadblock between her and the 1993 nomination, finished third behind Wilder and Chief Justice Harry L. Carrico.

The survey of legislators, lobbyists, state officials and journalists is conducted by the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot. The newspaper's ranking of legislators was announced two weeks ago.

A bright spot for Terry is that among the participating journalists, she finished higher than Beyer, placing eighth to his 12th. She also might find solace in that Wilder, as lieutenant governor, finished 17th four years ago. This was Beyer's first time to appear in the poll.

The disparity between Beyer's and Terry's showings may be explained, at least in part, by the nature of their jobs.

Beyer's job is part-time and carries no responsibilities other than presiding over the state Senate. And unless he has to break a tie on a controversial issue, which hasn't happened since Beyer took office, it's virtually risk-free.

Terry, on the other hand, holds the second most powerful position in state government, and as the state's chief law enforcement officer often is required to make unpopular decisions.

Lieutenant governors Wilder and Charles S. Robb, now a U.S. senator, used the Senate podium as a forum to enhance their images and win the governorship. The exception was in 1985, when Attorney General Gerald L. Baliles bested Lt. Gov. Richard Davis for the nomination.

So while Beyer has had little to do other than welcome visitors to the Senate gallery and attend receptions across the state, Terry has faced a host of difficult choices.

The most politically irksome issue facing Terry has been the question of whether women should be admitted to Virginia Military Institute. Her legal defense of the all-male institution has made her unpopular with people who see VMI's admission policy as a simple case of discrimination.

Her silence has led some to suspect that Terry, whose supporters include many of the most conservative financial backers of the party, either doesn't believe VMI should become coeducational, or is keeping quiet to avoid offending potential campaign contributors.

Terry, the highest elected female official in state history, insists that taking sides while she represents the school would be a violation of the legal profession's code of ethics. She has an opinion, she said, and the VMI board knows what it is: She gave it to them in writing at the start of the litigation.If You Think That's Bad Terry's nightmare is that Wilder is nominated for national office next year, which automatically would elevate Beyer to governor (by appointment) and position him to run the next year as an incumbent, a rare advantage in a state that bars its governors from seeking a consecutive second term. Spreading the Bad News The survey also was disheartening for the most openly ambitious of Wilder's cabinet appointees, Economic Development Secretary Lawrence H. Framme III, who finished last among the eight cabinet officials.

Finance Secretary Paul Timmreck, who has delivered a series of devastating economic forecasts, managed not to be confused with the message, finishing first among his cabinet peers and fifth overall.

Framme may have been unable to avoid that distinction. It was his department in which Wilder chose to make some of the deepest budget cuts, eliminating the Department of World Trade and trying, unsuccessfully, to combine various housing authorities under direct control of the governor.

With no one expecting Terry to seek a third term, and almost everyone expecting Beyer to seek reelection, unless he has moved into the governor's mansion by then, there already is some skirmishing for Terry's job.

In addition to Framme, the Great Mentioners around the capitol are dropping the names of Delegates Bernard S. Cohen, of Alexandria, and Howard E. Copeland, of Norfolk; former state bar association president William D. Dolan, of McLean, who is chairman of the state community college board; and former delegate Ralph L. "Bill" Axselle Jr., of suburban Richmond.

On the Republican side, Delegates George F. Allen, of Charlottesville, son of the late Redskins coach, and G. Steven Agee, of Roanoke, have been making speeches on the House floor that sound like trial runs for the hustings.

The GOP, which has been routed in the last three statewide elections, is otherwise bereft of candidates, with no one offering a guess who might vie for the top two spots. Sending Their Regrets Missing from the head table, or anywhere else in the room, at Saturday's Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Richmond -- the Democrats' biggest annual fund-raiser -- will be former governors Baliles and Robb.

Wilder's predecessors, who have been the targets of jabs, cite previous engagements as the reason for their absence. Robb, as chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, will preside at a reception for labor unions in Florida, while Baliles, now a Richmond lawyer, will be host at a dinner for his son, Jonathan, at the University of Virginia.

"Certainly there are those who will interpret it differently," said Chris Bridge, Baliles' former press secretary, who now runs Robb's Richmond office, "but those are the reasons."