JUST AS MARYLAND is seeing a significant rural-to-suburban shift of power in its state legislature, Virginia is undergoing great changes in its General Assembly. The common thread is not switches in partisan control of these state governments; that kind of change isn't welling up in Maryland, where Democrats have a firm grip on the executive and legislative branches. And though Virginia is in the thick of a tight set of elections that could deliver the General Assembly to Republican control for the first time since Reconstruction, the true tune-callers in Richmond next year will come from both parties. Their common interests stem from their growing percentages of the statewide vote and from their constituents' urgent needs for greater shares of state aid.

If the campaigns this fall can remain reasonably civil, the victors from Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads and other urban/suburban parts of the state could continue to team up next year in quests for transportation improvements, school construction, stronger gun safety laws and incentives for economic development.

In recent years the Northern Virginia delegations to Richmond have coalesced effectively to bring home legislative bacon. Gone, at least for now, are the days when Democratic and Republican members would vow to hang together for the session, only to come unglued when the legislative going got rough. Now there is even more bipartisan team play within the delegation, and smart members of both parties are forging links with other suburban lawmakers in the state.

If Gov. Gilmore can stash his campaign-season partisan venom and ease his demands for strict GOP loyalty, leaders of both parties could combine their ideas for financing major projects and enact strong legislative packages. But first it is up to voters, especially in Northern Virginia, to look carefully at the legislative contests in their districts for candidates who understand the new dynamics of suburban power in Richmond.