There has been more turnover in the warren of office suites at 444 North Capitol St. during the past few weeks than Congress has experienced during its last several terms. Call it the spoils of political war.

In these "federal relations" offices, representing most of the 19 new governors elected last November, the ballot returns brought on a mini-Washington transition that most of the capital will never notice. The offices, which function as lobbying arms for state governments, are awaiting the priority-setting intentions of the new chief executives.

At the Massachusetts office, the suite with a corner view of the Russell Senate Office Building is virtually empty. Two holdovers from the administration of Michael S. Dukakis (D), Patricia C. Branch and Stephanie Markiewicz, answer the phones to field inquiries or refer them to Boston. In room after room, unplugged computers and boxed files await the arrival of a new fleet of state lobbyists to be dispatched by Republican Gov. William F. Weld.

Weld spokesman Ray Howell said the Massachusetts presence here "seems a little big to us" at a time when the Weld administration is struggling to cope with one of the nation's worst state budget deficits.

Closing the office is not an option, however. "That's a fast way to save a couple of dollars, but the savings wouldn't be large," he said. Massachusetts continues to rely on federal aid for big-ticket items such as the Boston Harbor cleanup and construction of a third harbor tunnel.

For other state offices, the budget crises back home will have an immediate effect on the jobs they have to do here wooing Congress and the White House.

Michigan Gov. John Engler (R) inherited a $1 billion deficit from outgoing Democrat James J. Blanchard and is busily searching out ways to trim state spending and avoid raising taxes.

Part of the ax is likely to fall on Michigan's third-floor offices at North Capitol Street's Hall of the States. Engler spokesman John Truscott said Blanchard's nine-member Washington staff will probably be trimmed by two-thirds as part of a government-wide staff reduction that Engler has already begun.

"We are trying to lead by example," said Truscott, who estimated the executive staff in the new governor's office has been reduced from 115 employees to 72. "It just follows through on our commitment to downsize state government."

Monica Healy, who has been Democratic Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer's representative in Washington since 1986, chairs the Association of State Representatives, which meets on a weekly basis to plot strategy on common concerns such as highway funding, Medicaid cost-sharing and environmental legislation. Cutting back the states' presence in Washington now, she said, would be "penny wise and pound foolish."

"It's all the more important this year that the states join forces, work together collectively and target the issues that are important to states, because there's a shrinking pie," said Healy.

Voters who sent members of Congress back to Washington in November were not so kind to state officials, Healy said. Six incumbent governors were voted out.

"It's a bigger change than we've seen in a number of years," she said. "The governors really bore the brunt of the anti-incumbency mood. People were holding the governors accountable for national economic problems. It's not a pleasant time."

Mark D. Gearan, the executive director of the Democratic Governors' Association who once ran the Massachusetts lobbying office under Dukakis, said that federal relations offices have a different job to do now than they had in the past.

"It was a pro-active, offensive office before," he said. "When there was federal largess, we were seeking out the money, chasing it. Today, it is a defensive role, keeping what you have and keeping the feds off our backs."

Several new governors have already selected their Washington office directors. California Gov. Pete Wilson (R) will pay former congressional aide Benjamin Haddad $91,224 a year to run his office, and incoming Connecticut Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (I) has chosen another Hill aide, Terry Muilenburg, to lead his Washington lobbyists.

In Ohio, GOP Gov. George V. Voinovich recruited his Washington office director, Tom Needles, from the White House, where he served as a special assistant to the president. Needles is also planning to shrink what had been a nine-member staff under Democrat Richard Celeste.

"The Celeste appointees all were moving on to other opportunities," Needles said, using some of Washington's favorite transition jargon. "So it was not a hostile takeover."

There will be at least one new office: The new governor of Nebraska, Ben Nelson (D), is making plans to open up a shop here.

In some cases, new governors have opted to hold on to their predecessor's choice. New Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar will retain outgoing Gov. James R. Thompson's choice, Doug Richardson, in the state's Washington office, in part because the GOP is retaining the governor's office.

But Ann Sullivan, who served under two Connecticut governors -- Democrats Ella Grasso and William O'Neill -- is one longtime Washington insider who is taking her leave as Weicker takes over in Hartford.

Sullivan will set up an independent consulting firm here to continue the same kind of work she has done for the state of Connecticut. "It's been very difficult the last few years for states to articulate their needs on Capitol Hill," she said. "It's clear the federal government has no money. The dollars that do come back to the states are just being micromanaged to death."

One of the biggest state offices here will also be undergoing the most dramatic changes in personnel as Democrat Ann W. Richards takes over from Republican William Clements. Randy Erben, who has run the office for the past two years, has agreed to stay until March to help with the transition in the 13-person office.

"We're starting to look around for boxes and we're starting to look around for jobs," said Erben, who noted that Richards has scores of other appointments to make in Texas's vast bureaucracy before she has to worry about the Washington operation.

"I've talked to Governor Richards about it," he said. "But 'Do you want to keep the receptionist?' was not a question I asked."