Coming off a spell of good news for Virginia Republicans, two of the GOP's three statewide officeholders already are slugging it out for the party's nomination for governor in 2001.

Lt. Gov. John H. Hager and Attorney General Mark L. Earley wasted no time after the Nov. 2 elections in beginning to line up supporters for their 2001 race, which necessarily means going after each other's base in the different wings of the state Republican Party.

Hager got the jump on Earley by lining up nearly 200 well-known financial contributors for his Dec. 1 fund-raising gala in Richmond. The blue-chip list, which includes several politically active business leaders from Northern Virginia, is no guarantee that all of them will support Hager for the nomination, but it was not a bad showing for the former tobacco industry executive who never held elective office before his election two years ago. Hager hopes to raise $400,000 that night.

Earley countered recently, releasing a letter from his predecessor as attorney general soliciting support for the 2001 campaign.

Richard Cullen, a corporate lawyer from Richmond who was briefly attorney general after James S. Gilmore III left that post to run as governor in 1997, described Earley as the rightful heir to Gilmore's legacy of lower taxes, improved schools and a healthy state economy. "He has put professionalism above politics, and principles over posturing," Cullen wrote.

Hager will not cede the nomination to Earley, a former state senator from Chesapeake, where a major donor, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, has his headquarters.

Hosts at Hager's gala include a who's who of Richmond's corporate elite and figures from the Beltway suburbs, including lobbyist James W. Hazel; developer Hobie Mitchel; former U.S. representative Stanford E. Parris, now a Matthews resident; and Earle C. Williams.

Hager has aggressively sought the support of conservative stalwarts who might be natural Earley allies; his hosts also include Ted and Ann Beck of Glasgow, Va., Kevin and Anne Gentry of Fairfax and David Keene of Alexandria, all associated with national and state conservative efforts.

Interestingly, Earley, a conservative who has strongly held religious beliefs, has been concentrating on ideologically moderate corporate folk with whom Hager feels most comfortable. For instance, Cullen fits that bill as a well-connected centrist who is close to business leaders of all political persuasions.

Hager partisans already are complaining about Earley being compromised by Cullen and his ilk, who do considerable regulatory business before state government.

Conspicuously missing from Hager's host list is Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr., of Richmond. The powerful House Commerce Committee chairman is still peeved that Hager broke ranks with Gilmore by staying out of a bitter primary fight during the summer for a House of Delegates seat.

Bliley, by the way, has decided to seek reelection next year, GOP sources say.

Fund-Raiser, Fund-Giver

Two other items from the big-money front:

Del. S. Vance Wilkins Jr. (R-Amherst), soon to be the speaker of the House of Delegates, should rake in the bucks Jan. 11--right before the start of the 2000 General Assembly session--when he holds a fund-raiser at Richmond's Jefferson Hotel.

Tickets start at $55 and shoot up as high as $10,000 for members of the Speaker's Circle. Wilkins will be celebrating the new Republican majority in the House.

Also, from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville comes word of a $13.3 million gift from Richmonders William H. and Alice T. Goodwin, the largest contribution in the 45-year history of William Goodwin's alma mater, the university's Darden Graduate School of Business Administration.

The Goodwins have long been active in civic affairs across Virginia; his holdings have included the AMF Cos., the Kiawah Island Resort in South Carolina and the Jefferson Hotel, the grande dame of Richmond's luxury accommodations.

Gilmore's $200,000 Campaign

Gov. James S. Gilmore III, who raised more than $3 million to help secure a GOP majority in the legislature, borrowed about $200,000 at the end of the campaign to ensure the defeat of two well-known Democrats from the Hampton Roads area, according to the governor's allies.

Gilmore was dead-set on seeing the defeat of state Sen. Stanley C. Walker (Norfolk), the Senate's pro tempore, and veteran Del. Glen R. Croshaw (Virginia Beach). Both incumbents were attacked for what their Republican opponents described as abuses of public office.

Walker was famous for his large per diem tabs on state business and reimbursing family from his campaign payroll; Croshaw was hammered for holding down another state job after once resigning it while facing reelection.

Looking to Go Another Round

Republican Demaris H. Miller announced plans recently to challenge Democratic Rep. James P. Moran Jr. again, setting up a 2000 rematch against the four-term incumbent who beat her with 67 percent of the vote last year.

Miller, a former federal research psychologist and registered nurse, had vowed to try as many as three times to unseat Moran in Virginia's Democrat-friendly 8th Congressional District in Arlington and Alexandria.

Miller, 56, is married to former Reagan budget director James C. Miller III, who lost a 1996 GOP Senate nomination challenge to Republican Sen. John W. Warner. The senator enraged Virginia conservatives for opposing 1994 Senate GOP nominee Oliver L. North.

Staff writer Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.