There are so many Republican officeholders already campaigning for Virginia lieutenant governor and attorney general in 2001 that it may be difficult for either of the two incumbents to drop back and seek their current jobs again if their aspirations for governor fizzle between now and then.

At the GOP's 16th annual "Advance" last weekend, Attorney General Mark L. Earley and Lt. Gov. John H. Hager pledged a polite campaign for the gubernatorial nomination two years from now, addressing a crowd of several hundred of the party faithful, about half of whom covet their jobs.

For instance, Del. Jay Katzen, who represents some of the prettiest countryside in Virginia from his home base in Fauquier County, used the GOP retreat to announce once again for lieutenant governor, a job he sought in 1997 before dropping out in April of that year.

Katzen, a House member since 1994, held forth in the lobby of the Westfields Marriott near Dulles International Airport, with incoming House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr. (Amherst) by his side. One of the most conservative members of the GOP's legislative caucus, Katzen reiterated his long-held view against abortion rights.

Also working the Advance crowd were Jerry W. Kilgore, a Richmond lawyer and former state Cabinet member from Southwest Virginia who wants to repeat his 1997 bid for attorney general, and John A. Conrad, a Richmond City Council member who is running for the same job.

State Sen. J. Randy Forbes (Chesapeake), another Republican with higher ambitions for public office, perhaps lieutenant governor, had a visible role last weekend as state party chairman. Del. Paul C. Harris (Charlottesville), the only African American Republican in the House, is also considering a bid for statewide office.

All of this jockeying before Gov. James S. Gilmore III and his team have rounded the halfway mark of their term has some party elders amused--and a little edgy and irritated at the same time.

For one thing, Democrats, who got skunked in 1997 with three white men on their ticket, are already thinking about a Diversity Trio in 2001, perhaps a woman running for lieutenant governor and an African American running for attorney general.

More to the point, GOP strategists are looking ahead to what kind of face they want to present to voters. An all-white, all-male ticket from the Richmond-Hampton Roads corridor?

Or, instead, a more racially and geographically diverse set of candidates, with voices from Northern Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley or the coal fields of Southwest?

'Gold Sponsor' Donor Gets a Letter Too Many

Campaign workers for Lt. Gov. John H. Hager were full of themselves at the Advance, coming off a successful fund-raising dinner in Richmond that week.

But what gives with the sloppy staff work that permitted the misspellings of some big donors from Richmond and Northern Virginia in the evening's official program?

Note to Hager: Your "Gold Sponsor" Leonard S. "Hobie" Mitchel, the Gilmore ally and Loudoun County developer who is emerging as a voice for the Washington suburban region in the debate about statewide transportation funding, has only one L in his last name.

Impressive Moves in the Right Direction

Incoming House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr. has impressed many in the GOP with his deliberate transition to power, after more than 20 years in the trenches as a Republican champion in the legislature.

The performance has been "flawless," in the words of Gov. James S. Gilmore III's Chief of Staff M. Boyd Marcus Jr., who was tending his GOP flock at the Advance.

Wilkins has hired Mark C. Christie, a Richmond lawyer who was senior adviser to former governor George Allen, to be his counsel, a fancy word for the go-between to other Republicans and a key big-thought provider during combat with House Democrats.

Christie, 46, is a West Virginia native who was reappointed to the state Board of Education during the summer. He keeps his seat.

Another good move on the part of Wilkins may be his aggressive outreach to Northern Virginia. On Friday afternoon in Richmond, he saw a delegation of Capital Beltway business leaders who want to talk--what else?--transportation, already the hot issue of the 2000 General Assembly.

Tomorrow, Wilkins is scheduled to go to the posh Tower Club at Tysons Corner to meet with high-technology types from that region; Wednesday, he is to see the board of directors of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce on its home turf.

An Abundance of Answers for Trivia Lovers

Which Virginia locality spends the most for parks, recreation and cultural activities?

Lovers of state trivia who pay $45 for the brand-new, 1,106-page Virginia Statistical Abstract will know it's Fairfax County, which spent more than $82 million on those services in 1998.

At two inches thick, the abstract is the definitive repository of state factoids for journalists and other fans of its publisher, the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

The 2000 edition has 677 tables of information, 1,905 index entries and heaps of data for researchers and other curious browsers.

The Cooper Center can be reached at 804-982-5522.