FOR A WHILE it looked as if both candidates for governor had their Northern Virginia scripts down fairly well: talk about traffic jams, education, high tech and Metro. But on Monday, Republican Wyatt Durrette teamed up with Fairfax County Board Chairman John F. Herrity for one of the more shop-worn political shots in the book: the "Lorton-is-your-fault" litany that can be glibly used against almost anybody or anything. Mr. Herrity generally uses it to bark at the District of Columbia, to which the Lorton Reformatory belongs. Mr. Durrette decided that whatever is wrong with Lorton is somehow due to the indifference of his opponent, Democrat Gerald Baliles, which he said symbolizes Mr. Baliles's lack of concern with Northern Virginia.

We've forgotten who originated the old Lorton line -- it wasn't Mark Twain or Will Rogers -- though former Virginia senator William Scott nearly ran it into the ground during his memorable years on Capitol Hill. But as Fairfax Supervisor Martha Pennino noted at a gathering with Mr. Baliles yesterday, "Lorton is not a Democratic problem. In fact, the Republican administrations years ago didn't see fit even to recognize any problem at Lorton. The issue is not Lorton . . . but who are the most qualified candidates." Supervisor Audrey Moore noted that the state's two U.S. senators, Northern Virginia's two House representatives and Mr. Herrity -- all Republicans -- haven't done anything about Lorton either.

A policy adviser to Mr. Baliles contends that Mr. Durrette's "interest in this issue is of recent vintage." Mr. Durrette says it goes back at least two years to a letter of concern that was sent to Mr. Baliles by Republican Del. Frank Medico expressing concern about the facility.

Why not concede all around that the issue is rich in shallow heritage -- and go back to substance? As someone once said -- he was an inmate at Lorton, in fact -- "Give us a break."