Williamsburg, Va. — Along Duke of Gloucester and nearby streets here, men and women in colonial garb are opening eighteenth-century homes and shops. And as another day's wave of visitors begins arriving for a stroll through history, fifers and drummers start playing patriotic tunes.
But inside the Williamsburg Lodge, within earshot of the crisp tunes, Southern governors sound what to Walter Mondale will seem like discordant notes regarding his chances in the South this fall. They see President Reagan as a very likely winner in most of the Southern states in November.
Nearly one-third of the nation's electoral votes come from the 17 states represented by the Southern Governors' Association. And while the South may be heavily Democratic in terms of its governors, its presidential politics are far from one-party.
The region went entirely for Nixon in 1972. Jimmy Carter carried it in 1976. But in 1980 Ronald Reagan carried, in some cases narrowly, all those states except Maryland, West Virginia, and Mr. Carter's home state of Georgia.
In this year's Southern primaries Mr. Mondale failed to generate much enthusiasm. A Darden Poll of the South in April showed him losing to Mr. Reagan among independents 19 to 75 percent. Even among Democrats he beat the President by only 57 to 42.
Nine Southern governors (seven Democrats and two Republicans) who showed up for the first full day's meeting here. None of them see Mondale as ahead in their states now, although several point to campaign steps that he should take to increase his chances of winning there in November, including naming a woman as his running mate.
Only a major international or domestic blunder by the President is likely to keep him from winning most Southern states, according to these governors.
Huge federal deficits could hurt Mr. Reagan, some of the governors said. But deficits are ''a very difficult issue to sell'' to voters, says South Carolina's Richard Riley, a Democrat.
Adds Democratic Gov. Joe Frank Harris of Georgia, ''The average person can't relate to it.''
So what can Mr. Mondale do in the South? The Democratic governors offer this advice: Try hard to explain the deficit issue; make sure his black supporters in Mississippi, the poor in Kentucky, and Hispanics and blacks in Texas vote; be specific on ways to get the many still unemployed back to work.
Regarding Mondale's selection of a running mate, Florida Gov. Bob Graham (D) suggests a woman would help him exploit the main ''vulnerability'' of the President - the economy, because ''women have a special understanding'' of economic issues.
Kentucky Gov. Martha Layne Collins said: ''I don't think we need to talk in terms of sex.'' But, then she added, ''Being a woman, I've encouraged him to condsider a woman.''
The vice-presidential candidate, she says, must be someone who is ''not an elitist (or) silk stocking.'' The candidate should be ''a strong grass-roots person who can identify with the man on the street; someone who addresses the problem.'' Other advice:
Florida's Graham: Mondale should quickly end the vice-presidential selection process and get on with the campaign, trying to hit at economic problems.
Georgia's Harris: Mondale should choose someone as vice-president who would be an ''ideological balance'' to himself. He should emphasize the national debt and Reagan's cut in education programs.
Kentucky's Collins: Mondale should campaign in Kentucky and talk about getting coal miners back to work, about the recession and high interest rates.
Mississippi's Bill Allain (D): ''If people are working and they've got a job - they don't change horses much,'' he says about Reagan's strength in the South. Asked why Reagan is so popular, he paraphrased a political scientist: ''You've always got to have a John Wayne.'' Reagan has ''the knack of saying everything is fine and making people believe it.''
South Carolina's Richard Riley (D): In choosing a vice-presidential candidate , ''more important than geography is substance.'' The person must be someone with ''moderate views.'' Mondale must begin to ''project vision,'' possibly with the help of Gary Hart or someone like him as a running mate.
Texas' Mark White (D): Complicated as it is, Mondale should try to explain the problem of deficit. And he should be specific on issues. ''He may have to tell people some things they don't want to hear.''
Virginia's Charles Robb (D) says he has given Mondale the name of a potential running mate, someone Mondale has not yet interviewed. But he will not say who. Virginia is considered almost sure to go to Reagan.