George Bush called it a "warm Richmond, warm Virginia welcome," a classy evening at the capital's grande dame of hotels. His host, Gov. James S. Gilmore III, said it was all that and more, the full flowering of a Republican money machine the likes of which this state rarely sees.

The former president stopped by the Jefferson Hotel for some private face-time with party regulars bracing for the Nov. 2 legislative elections and then did a star turn at the podium as the featured attraction Friday at a fund-raiser for Gilmore's New Majority Project political action committee.

More than $1 million was the official estimated take (Gilmore pals said it was closer to $2 million) from a series of five events culminating three nights ago at the Northern Virginia home of Dwight C. Schar, a longtime giver to GOP causes. The Jefferson event was the midway point in the galas that marked Gilmore's 50th birthday--and raised serious cash for Election Day.

Bush and Richmond have long been a natural fit: old money, proper manners and politics in tune with a capital often obsessed with wealth, etiquette and the winner-take-all world of elections.

He was in good form, making self-deprecating cracks about broccoli and skydiving; teasing Gilmore ("When I got to be 50, I did not rejoice; when Gov. Gilmore got to be 50, he had eight birthday celebrations!"); being hugely proud of his sons the governors of Florida and Texas; and reflecting about butting heads with a Democratic Congress for four years until the 1992 elections.

"I had a hell of a time fighting with an entrenched congressional leadership that seemed determined to fight me at every turn," Bush told the crowd of 500 Republicans. "We were playing hardball politics, and it was kind of uphill and we weren't able to take the offensive.

"My point is, the same thing is true at this level of government," Bush added. "The state level of government is vitally important if you believe that the answers can be found closer to the people.

"And that's what this election coming up is about."

A Call for Democrats to Stand Tall

One of the few Yellow Dog Democrats still brave enough to show her face in conservative Richmond isn't giving up the cause as Republicans strut their stuff here and elsewhere in Virginia.

Susan R. Swecker, a national committee member and longtime party activist, is starting a Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow PAC to help Democrats running for the General Assembly this fall.

"The backbone of our party in Virginia has always been our Democratic majority in the General Assembly," Swecker wrote to her chums around the state. "Now control of the assembly and the direction of our state government are up for grabs."

Swecker said she targeted a core group of nearly 300 party leaders "to bring a new dimension of message delivery to targeted races."

"When the dust settles from this critically important November election, let the record reflect that those of us who have had the opportunity to serve our party as 'paid hacks' and who utilized our time in politics as a springboard to success in later life, stood tall in the party's most crucial time of need," Swecker wrote.

Avoiding Party Labels

Party labels can be elusive this time of year, as Republicans and Democrats alike aim for the independent-minded voters who don't always hew to the partisan line.

Consider this resume: retired Fairfax County teacher. Nationally recognized leader in the field of adult education. A product of two Virginia colleges. Senior member of the powerful Appropriations Committee in the House of Delegates.

And chairman of the state Democratic Party.

To read recent campaign mailings of Del. Kenneth R. Plum of Reston, a voter may know about the first four items, but not the fifth.

Plum's mailing makes no mention of his party, let alone the one he leads.

"It's like: 'Democratic Chairman is Shunning Democratic Label,' " said Michael N. Pocalyco, an investment banker making his first bid for public office against Plum.

Similarly, retiring Del. W. Tayloe Murphy Jr., a Democrat from the Republican-leaning Northern Neck, has cut a radio spot endorsing his former aide, Albert C. Pollard Jr., against Henry L. Hull (R).

Pollard, says Murphy in his rich Tidewater drawl, would make the "strongest independent advocate Northern Neck families could have."

Finally comes Attorney General Mark L. Earley, who made three radio commercials for fellow Republicans.

Only once does Earley say overtly that he is a Republican; in another ad he criticizes Democrats as "the party of bigger government."

"Republicans, on the other hand, view themselves as the party of liberty," Earley says in that spot, which like the others was produced by a California-based company.