Virginia's three most prominent contenders for governor in the 2001 election are waging distinctively different campaigns at the moment, all liberated--and constricted--by their jobs.

Democrat Mark R. Warner, an Alexandria businessman, is keeping perhaps the lowest profile just now, preferring instead to concentrate on bread-and-butter issues such as weaknesses in the state's math and science teaching corps, his topic the other day at an appearance in Richmond.

Warner's deliberate approach at this time did nothing to deter the 1,700 party faithful, ravenous for a lot more than the roast pig he was serving at his recent annual picnic beside the Rappahannock River.

Many rank-and-file Democrats see Warner, their unsuccessful 1996 U.S. Senate candidate, as their best hope of regaining the governor's office after eight years of Gilmore and Allen administrations. And the millionaire businessman is carefully laying his bets across the state, quietly helping legislative candidates and building a computerized database of voter trends and turnouts that will help him organize in a year.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Mark L. Earley, elected with Gov. James S. Gilmore III in the GOP's statewide sweep in 1997, is largely confined to official duties as the state government's top lawyer, venturing out occasionally to push anti-drinking programs on college campuses and to help Republican candidates in closely fought races.

With virtually no official duties while the legislature is out of session, Lt. Gov. John H. Hager is free to roam, tagging along to Gilmore events and reaching out on his own, also helping GOP candidates.

Hager, whose already small staff suffered a summer of departures, has tried at every turn to dig into Earley's support base. For instance, he was scheduled to spend yesterday morning at the Christian Coalition's Road to Victory conference at the Washington Hilton hotel; Earley was to address the group's Virginia chapter as a featured speaker yesterday afternoon.

The shadowboxing between Hager and Earley will continue for months--the Hager camp enjoyed an initial lead in fund-raising, while Earley allies point with some glee to the two chiefs of staff the lieutenant governor's office has already chewed up.

Meanwhile, Republican eyes are fixed firmly on Warner and his deep pockets, even though the Democrat--for now--seems to be judicious about where he spends time and other resources.

Warner Invests in Fairfax Voter Study

One prime target for Democratic candidate Mark R. Warner's money is Fairfax County, where Democrat Stanley G. Barry is locked in a nasty race against incumbent Carl R. Peed (R) for sheriff.

Warner is spending about $100,000 for one of the most complete voter profiles ever conducted in that jurisdiction, which will help Barry immediately and Warner thereafter.

The voter canvass--which Democrats said was to be finished by Friday--aims to identify valuable "swing" voters.

Republican Wranglers' Cash Roundup

On the Republican money front, two big developments: cowboy cash for a U.S. Senate candidate and birthday bucks for a sitting governor.

Former governor George Allen, running for the Senate next year, held his fourth annual Hoe Down on a farm outside Richmond last weekend, raising $160,000 from 500 pals for his campaign and the state GOP.

Starting Tuesday, friends of Gov. James S. Gilmore III, including former president George Bush and his son who's running for the White House, begin their five-event fund-raising effort for the New Majority Project established to win GOP control of the state General Assembly.

On Tuesday, John Matney and Clyde Stacy, both energy executives in Bristol, will hold an evening reception, and the next night, automobile parts entrepreneur Nick Taubman hosts a similar event in Roanoke.

Friday, the elder Bush will be the draw at Richmond's renowned Jefferson Hotel, while his son appears with Gilmore on Oct. 11 in Norfolk--with rail executive David Goode and businessman Douglas Perry as hosts--and in McLean, with developer Dwight Schar and technology whiz Len Pomata as hosts.

Generally, tickets for the events range from $500 to $10,000, but prices go as high as $25,000 for the Richmond event. That scratch buys scads of tickets to pre- and post-dinner events and photo opportunities with Gilmore and Bush.

"The Bushes are being very generous," said Todd Reid, executive director of Gilmore's political action committee.

The Gilmore camp expects to reap at least $1 million from the celebrations marking the governor's 50th birthday. Most major credit cards will be accepted.

Shuffling the Governor's Deck

Musical chairs on Gilmore's staff:

Walter S. Felton Jr., the governor's longtime lawyerly aide, is promoted to be his counsel and policy director, while Lee Goodman, a sharp policy wonk in the 1997 campaign, moves up as Felton's No. 2.

Steve Horton, the young, chain-smoking political operative who has saved more than one candidate's campaign, becomes the administration's point man with the legislature. John Mahone, an expert on state finances, becomes Gilmore's overseer of Cabinet secretariats and state agencies.

One impetus for the changes was a decision by longtime GOPer William H. Hurd to remain in Attorney General Mark L. Earley's office, with the new title of solicitor general.

Hurd gets no raise on top of his $106,000 yearly salary as Earley's senior counsel, but his job duties will be reconfigured, an Earley spokesman said.