NO SOONER HAD the first caucus of the political season bloomed in Richmond than Northern Virginia found itself shut out of the leadership of both houses in the General Assembly. With the ouster of state Sen. Adelard L. Brault of Fairfax as Senate majority leader, this area's lawmakers in both parties will now have to redouble their scrambling to win friends and influence people in the legislature. The first step -- getting their own bipartisan act together -- may be the toughest. But a rare burst of unity could go a long way in striking a deal on transit money -- a package that could pay off not only in Metrodollars, but in some new alliances with highway-hungry parts of the state.

Though Mr. Brault's defeat came as a blow to his Northern Virginia colleagues, the state Senate may prove less of a problem for this area than the House; there, a new speaker and a new majority leader -- each a strongly partisan democrat -- might try to punish Northern Virginia for electing more Republicans to the House last month. This would be silly for a number of reasons, the most important of which should not be lost on either political party: at least one-fifth of the state's votes are in Northern Virginia.

Gov. John Dalton remembered that fact when he campaigned heavily in the Washington suburbs, speaking kindly of Metro and many other Northern Virginia concerns. Though that script was scrapped after his election, other Republicans surely recognize the importance of Northern Virginia to their party's statewide hopes of the future. You'd think that Lt. Gov. Charles Robb also would be trying to erase sectional differences to help Northern Virginia's delegation in Richmond. But he hasn't exactly gone out of his way so far.

Part of the problem is that, votes or not, Northern Virginia still tends to be regarded in other corners of the state as some sort of foreign territory populated by free-spending liberals with peculiar demands. That unfair image isn't going to disappear overnight, but maybe with some smooth diplomacy, this region's "ambassadors" to the capital can negotiate at least a favored-nation status for Northern Virginia.