In the early 1970s, two of the hottest new political properties in the nation were the Democratic governor of Georgia and the Republican governor of Virginia.

Both were small town natives of the rural South; men in their mid-40s who had sprung from political obscurity to the governor's mansion on their second try. Neither had held public office before.

Both of them, moreoever, had drawn nationwide attention by calling in their inaugural addresses for a new era in their racially-troubled states - an era of racial equality and justice. Southern governors didn't talk that way then and pundits predicted that both men were headed for bigger things.

Today it appears the pundits were only half right.

While Georgian Jimmy Carter has battled his way to the White House, Linwood Holton of Virginia has been battling declining political fortunes since midway through his single four-year term in Richmond.

Yesterday, in what looks like a coup de grace, he was rejected for the U.S. Senate nomination by the same Virginia Republican Party whose rebirth he had labored for since boyhood and for whom he had captured the party's first Virginia governorship since Reconstruction.

For the Harvard-educated lawyer from Big Stone Gap. Va., it was not a happy ending.

Unlike Carter, who built his first political effort on a highly personalized organization within the huge Georgia Democratic Party, Holton depended heavily from the start on the traditional institutional structure of the GOP both state and nationwide. With little personal fortune of his own, he had no other choice.

To a party hungry for new faces, he offered a winning combination of personal charisma and a moderate image that, he argued, could vastly broaden the traditional Republican appeal during the lean Democratic years.

In his first race for governor in 1965, Holton showed promise of doing just that. Despite a never-since duplicated coalition of blacks, conservatives, liberals and organized labor put together by then-Democrat Mills E. Godwin. Holton polled more votes than any previous Virginia Republican.

Four years later, aided by a bitter moderate-liberal split among the state's Deomcrats. Holton slipped past Democrat William Battle to become Virginia's first Republican governor in 100 years.

Despite an overwhelmingly Democratic General Assembly, Holton won passage of significant parts of his legislative program, including reorganizating state government, instituting fiscal reform, putting muscle in the state's traditionally docile regulatory agencies and establishing the first state cabinet.

But his repeated conciliatory gestures to Virginia's blacks - including personally escorting his children to class at an all-black city school during anti-busing protests in Richmond - drew the wrath of GOP conservatives both in and outside of the state.

Also unpopular with the party right wing was his insistence that the GOP nominate a candidate to oppose Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr., who had left the Democratic Party in 1970 to campaign as an independent.

Holton alone appeared to stand against the then president Richard M. Nixon administration's "southern strategy" designed to woo Dixie conservatives to the GOP.

Other state Republicans were angered by his refusal to play spoils system politics with appointive jobs, many of which he handed out to well-qualified Democrats or career civil servants as he had promised he would during his campaign.

Before half his term was gone, he had lost control of the state party to the conservatives.

"When he asked me to work for him in 1969," said Staige Blackford, his former press secretary, "he said he was worried that if he didn't win the governorship, Harry Byrd's people would come in and take over the Republican Party. Well, he won and they took over anyway."

Though his personal popularity remained high with Virginians as a whole, his loss of party control was a serious blow to Holton's ambition. He had never made any secret of his hopes for national office and looked hopes for national office and looked hopefully toward the White House for a helping hand.

He had worked tirelessly for Richard Nixon as a regional coordinator in 1968, and Nixon and campaigned for him the following year.

But after the campaign against Byrd in 1970, he received repeated cold shoulders from the White House even though - as he told Post reporters and editors in early 1972 - "I've cast my lot with Nixon to the end for better or worse."

Nixon's one gesture in Holton's direction was to float the false rumor and after Spiro Agnew's resignation, a false rumor surfaced briefly that Nixon would appoint Holton - and not Gerald Ford - as vice president.

After stepping down from the governorship in 1974, Holton moved his family to McLean and took a job as congressional liaison for then secretary of state Henry Kissinger. He was fascinated by kissinger, he said, and hoped to steep himself in foreign affairs.

But the Nixon administration in the death throes of Watergate was not a nice place to be. Holton found himself caught between an increasingly secretive Kissinger and an increasingly distrustful Congress.

His own problems to ego "decompression" from the power of public office, those who worked with him say, triggered several clashes with senators including a publicized argument with Sen. Henry M. Jackson, D-Wash., outside a Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.

He resigned before the year was out to join the Washington law firm of Hogan and Hartson, but there were repeated reports that he was not happy.

Turning again to politics, Holton announced his candidacy for the Senate nomination last December. At a press conference that day, he took positions on national issues that were so decidedly conservative that they seemed calculated to make sure that the only issue left between him and Obenshain was electability.

He embarked on a highly personal style of campaigning, stumping the state shaking hands, speaking at large rallies and tiny coffee gatherings, seeking out voters in all parts of Virginia. He renewed old political friendships and called on them to help organize his campaign and attract new workers and delegates.

Money was a problem, the contributions never approached the size and steadiness political observers thought necessary to mount a successful campaign. Finance reports filed 10 days before the convention showed Holton spending $77,555 out of gifts totaling $86.167, far less than either Warner or Obenshain.

But the former governor doggedly emphasized his conservative credentials and worked to reassure skeptical conservatives that his brand of "problem-solving Republicanism" wasn't another word for liberal.

Pointing to numerous articles and polls that declared him the most powerful candidate the GOP could field, he insisted almost up to the moment he stepped up to the podium to withdraw that "electability is the major issue." But the delegates were apparently looking past the former governor for another standardbearer.