Virginia Democrat Henry E. Howell yesterday came to the Washington area seeking money for his gubernatorial campaign and assuring Virginia civil defense officials that his "friend across the Potomac" would help solve their financial problems.

In his only public appearance of the day, Howell put heavey stress on his friendship with President Carter, telling a civil defense group "Virginia needs a governor with that kind of friend."

Howell spent a good portion of the day seeking pledges of financial support for the fall campaign, first during a breakfast meeting with officials of the United Auto Workers Union in Alexandria and later at an evening cocktail party in Georgetown.

This morning he is scheduled to conclude his Washington visit by stopping at the Agriculture Department to talk with officials there about additional drought relief for Virginia farmers.

Howell didn't say how successful his fund effort raising yesterday was, but he said he has raised about $56,000 since his June 14 Democratic primary victory and has applied much of that to erasing his campaign debt of $110,791. The Howell staff has said the candidate needs to raise about $800,000 more for its fall campaign against Republican John N. Dalton.

In addition Howell said he will, for the first time, place his fund raising activities directly under the control of a Virginia business executive rather than a member of his own staff. H.R. (Peck) Humphreys a Northern Neck fishing company executive will manage the fundraising with assistance of Lane O'Farrell, who ran the highly successful $2 million fund-raising effort of Howell's primary opponent. Andrew P. Miller, according to Howell.

One of the more embarrasing moments in Howell's primary campaign this spring came when he had to reject a promised large donation from a man who had been convicted of three felony charges. The members of Howell's staff who had arranged and announced the donation said later they were not aware of the man's reccord at the time.