Carl D. Bieber, a Republican activist in the Tidewater area, delivered a blunt message to John W. Warner four days ago as Virginia's senior GOP senator agonized over the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Robert H. Bork.

"I told him I thought our people would be terribly concerned by his deserting the president and the conservative cause," recalled Bieber, who met privately with Warner in Norfolk for about 15 minutes. "I told him no way did I want to see my senator link up with the likes of Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden," two Democratic senators who led the charge against Bork.

Yesterday, though, Warner did precisely that, becoming the only southern Republican in the Senate to side with the Democratic majority against Bork, a judge who in Warner's words lacked the "record of compassion, of sensitivity, of an understanding of the pleas of the people to enable him to sit on the highest court of the land."

Later, as word of Warner's vote spread through the rank and file of Virginia's GOP, party leaders reacted with a fury that made some of their past internal feuds pale by comparison.

"I don't have any reaction that's fit to print," said Joe Elton, the executive director of the state Republican Party.

"The more I think about it, the angrier I'm becoming," said party Treasurer William H. Hurd, who worked on Warner's first Senate campaign in 1978. "It certainly was not our senator's finest hour."

In addition to being further proof of the gulf between Warner and the conservative forces that dominate his party in Virginia, the senator's vote marked his latest attempt to reach out to blacks and other groups that historically have shunned the state GOP, according to Republicans, Democrats and some Warner confidants. The resentment Republicans may feel in the short run will be far outweighed by the long-term, statewide benefit Warner stands to reap, some of these observers predicted.

"The easy thing for him to have done was to cast his vote in favor of Judge Bork -- that's what everybody expected him to do," said state Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell Jr. (R-Alexandria). "Now he'll have to spend a lot of time explaining the vote in some sectors of the party.

"But on balance, it is a political gain for him," Mitchell said. "He is appealing to a broader constituency beyond the Republican Party. He will likely gain far more than he will lose."

Flo Traywick of Lynchburg, one of the state party's two representatives on the Republican National Committee, said she was disappointed by Warner's vote but suggested that party regulars will give Warner the benefit of the doubt if, as expected, he seeks election to a third six-year term in 1990.

In his statement on the Senate floor, Warner said his vote against the nomination boiled down to reservations he had about Bork's character. The "record is incomplete," Warner said, "as to the character of this man, the volatility of his earlier career."

Still lacking, Warner added, was evidence of "those benchmarks {showing} where he will go in the future, sitting on the highest court in the land."

Warner also contrasted Bork to the late E. Barrett Prettyman, a federal judge for whom Warner once served as a law clerk.

Prettyman, Warner told the Senate, went "on and on about how to protect people" in a landmark case; Bork, on the other hand, had not shown such "compassion," the senator said.

Elton, the state party's executive director, said late yesterday that he had quickly "heard from conservatives who are highly offended by the vote -- already there have been threats they'll recruit somebody to run against him."

However, given Warner's popularity in a GOP that is often outgunned at election time, that prospect seems unlikely.

"I don't think John Warner can be swayed by the moderates and liberals, or the conservatives," said Charles M.L. Mangum, the president of Virginia's 20,000-member NAACP.

Mangum, who helped orchestrate a statewide letter-writing campaign on the Bork nomination, added: "We are ecstatic about this vote -- shall I say pleasantly surprised.

"This time John Warner voted his conscience."

Staff writer Eric Pianin contributed to this report.