In her role as one of the General Assembly's leading experts on health care, state Sen. Jane H. Woods (R-Fairfax) has taken stands that have infuriated Gov. James S. Gilmore III and his staunchly conservative allies.

So it was just a little jarring Tuesday, exactly two weeks before Election Day, to see Woods alongside Gilmore at a political love-in celebrating the family, what the governor called a "sacred, boundless, timeless" institution.

Woods has fought Gilmore tooth and nail to expand insurance coverage to thousands of low-income children, waging a lonely and ultimately failed battle against senior administration officials and their friends in the legislature.

However, both she and Gilmore were all smiles in his Capitol conference room, where he signed an executive order requiring state agencies to review the effects of new regulations on Virginia families.

"Any disagreement we had was over process and procedure and methodology," Gilmore said.

"Our goal is truly identical," Woods agreed.

Election-year politics can convert implacable opponents on issues into temporary pals; Woods, a moderate who is in a tough election fight with former delegate Leslie L. Byrne (D), has in fact received money from the Gilmore camp as it wages a district-by-district campaign for absolute Republican control of the assembly.

But what a fish out of water Woods was, flanked by a conservative cadre that included Betty Hansel of the Christian Coalition, Louise Hartz of the Virginia Society for Human Life, Jack Knapp, who has lobbied for the Virginia Assembly of Independent Baptists and the Old Dominion Association of Church Schools, and Martin D. Brown and Robin DeJarnette, both of the Family Foundation.

One Democratic Party spokesman promptly pounced on the cozy picture, first assailing Gilmore for the evidently partisan order-signing and then zapping Woods for playing along.

"It's all about whipping up the right-wing vote for this year's election," said Craig K. Bieber, the state Democratic Party's executive director. "It's time to throw a little red meat to the base!"

Woods, he added, was first a "cuddly, squeezable moderate and now suddenly Jane is in bed with the Family Foundation and Christian Coalition. It's typical Jane Woods: a multiple choice."

Democrats contend that Woods had to veer rightward to deflect Virginia T. Dobey, a conservative who is running as a political independent in the Nov. 2 election against Woods and Byrne.

Dobey has had scant impact--about 3 percentage points--in private Republican polling but fared better--around 7 points--in recent Democratic surveys.

Byrne, who served in the House of Delegates in the late 1980s before moving on to Congress for a term, is counting on Dobey to peel enough votes away from Woods, who served in the House before entering the Senate in 1992.

Robb's Seat Called Vital

U.S. Sen. Charles S. Robb (D) may be keeping a fairly low profile in his bid for a third term, but he is definitely on the screen of two colleagues who make it their business to elect Democrats and Republicans to their 100-member body.

Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Robert G. Torricelli (D-N.J.), the chairmen of their parties' respective senatorial campaign committees, told NBC's "Meet the Press" last week that Virginia's 2000 Senate race is vitally important.

"We need to hold some seats," Torricelli said. "Chuck Robb's victory in Virginia is critical for us."

McConnell sounded more certain about the prospects for Republican candidate George Allen, who like Robb is a former governor.

"I want to commend Bob," McConnell said of Torricelli. "I think he is doing a good job, and I would agree with him that they have a chance.

"Their problem is we're going to win the seats in Nevada and Virginia and New York," he said. "We do have a number of incumbents in very difficult races. But I think we're going to gain the three that I just mentioned."

Appearances at NAACP Meeting

Speaking of Sen. Charles S. Robb, the son-in-law of former president Lyndon B. Johnson was a featured luncheon speaker Friday in Richmond at the 64th annual state convention of the Virginia state conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) and Mark L. Earley (R), the state attorney general and gubernatorial hopeful in 2001, also have cameos at the convention.

On Thursday, the NAACP and Virginia Power sponsored a special seminar on technology, with Don Upson, state government's "techno czar," as the featured speaker.

Gilmore All Over the Map

Gilmore took his campaign for a new Republican majority in the General Assembly to legislative districts at opposite ends of the state last week, appearing with state Sen. Frederick M. Quayle of Chesapeake, who faces a spirited challenger, and then with Christopher T. Craig, who is trying to unseat Del. Vivian E. Watts, an Annandale Democrat.

C.W. "Levi" Levy is running as an independent in that Northern Virginia race.

Gilmore's appearance on Craig's behalf prompted a fax from Watts, who was the state transportation secretary in the late 1980s.

Watts reminded the Notebook that she is still challenging Gilmore and other policymakers to explore all financial options--taxes, tolls and user fees--to pay for transportation improvements.

Recalling her days in the cabinet, Watts said, "We had no reason to imagine that the next three governors would break with the stewardship of the governors before them in modern times, Republican and Democrat alike, who has raised the gasoline tax a penny or two to keep us even with our sister states.

"If we had raised this user fee to stay competitive with Maryland, we would have had over $1.3 billion more to spend on transportation needs in this decade," Watts said.