By week's end, Mark R. Warner the Democratic partisan will be $200,000 richer, thanks to two fundraisers for his One Virginia political action committee.

So how will Warner the "bipartisan" governor spend it in the upcoming election year?

"On political travel and political communication," said Heather Martin, the PAC employee who set up this week's two events, one Tuesday night at a mansion in the horse country west of Richmond and the other tonight at Warner's Old Town Alexandria home.

Democratic candidates for General Assembly seats are hoping they get at least some of the money, as Warner has said they will. But it may not be much. In his ongoing effort to stay above the political fray, Warner the Democratic Party-builder spends wisely, but not all that much.

Warner spent cautiously in the series of special legislative elections that started in August and ran into November. The One Virginia PAC would drop $5,000 here or $10,000 there, nice chunks of change for those House of Delegates and state Senate hopefuls, most of whom lost. The contributions were nice but not great money -- not for a sitting governor who started his PAC with $420,000 in leftover campaign and inaugural money.

The restrained spending reflected a chief executive who spent his first year in office bending over backward to appear apolitical, assuming the anti-politician's stance that worked so well in the 2001 governor's race.

It was smart politics for Warner to put as much distance between his governorship and his tenure in the 1990s as chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party. By the time Warner assumed office this year, those days were long gone and the whole political map reshuffled. Virginia was singing from a Republican songbook, and Warner had to learn the words.

Only when he went for broke on his biggest and riskiest initiative of 2002 -- proposed sales tax increases in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads -- did voters see a glimpse of the old Warner: a dynamic, solutions-oriented Democrat who saw higher taxes as a partial solution to the serious regional problems of transportation gridlock.

Yet even with help from a creaky old Democratic machine, some newfound Republican buddies and old pals in the Republican-leaning business community, Warner lost resoundingly.

As if that wasn't enough, Warner is about to run smack into a Republican-controlled legislature that is feeling emboldened by the proposals' defeat but also nervous about his capacity to shape an extremely important election-year debate over state government's spending priorities.

"It's becoming clearer the governor is a political partisan, even though he tries to convince voters that he's the bipartisan governor," said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith of Salem, the Republican point-person in challenging Warner during the walk-up to the governor's budget presentation Dec. 20.

Griffith -- and, for that matter, a growing number of Democrats -- say that whatever honeymoon existed between the two sides during Warner's first year is now more than over. Warner has annoyed GOP leaders by not sharing the innards of his budget-balancing plan, and Republicans are stomping around Virginia declaring it a no-new-taxes zone. The gloves are off.

That suits partisan legislators such as Griffith just fine. "Being partisan, in and of itself, is not bad. Nobody ever accused George Allen or Jim Gilmore of being bipartisan. And they never claimed to be!"

Politics has a funny way of catching up to politicians, and Warner is in for a General Assembly session utterly different from the one he enjoyed last winter.

In fact, it will be the rigors of the 2003 session that dictate how Warner spends the money he's collecting this week -- and the other contributions that are sure to come his way in the new year.

Wise Democrats know that Warner's money alone can't rebuild their tattered party. "Writing a check is not the answer -- retail politics is," said Betty Jolly, the party's executive director.

So is recruiting first-rate candidates, a chore that party leaders acknowledge they flubbed in recent years.

On Tuesday, Warner told reporters that his PAC money "will be used to continue our political agenda. . . . It will also go to candidates that support our view of where Virginia needs to head."

What kind of Democrats are those? Surely not Democrats in the traditional sense of that party label. If nothing else, the 2003 elections will help determine what it means to be a modern-day Virginia Democrat, with Warner at the party's helm.