Do you smoke a pipe?" asked Fred Wineland, Maryland's secretary of state. "You don't, huh. Well, I do. I used to smoke cigarettes. Pipes . . . pipes burn slowly; you can watch them burn. And sitting there watching them burn sometimes makes you think that rather than saying yes or no, you should take things very slowly."

Back in the days when he smoked cigarettes, Fred Wineland did not take things slowly. His political rise was mercurial; his power immence.

He rocked from freshman delegate to Prince George's County's one and only state senator within a two-year span in the early 1960s. He controlled all locally originated legislation. He made appointments to planning boards and sanitary commissions. He had a major say in judgeship appointments. Some people said he was "the mayor" of Prince George's. Almost everyone referred to him as "Mr. Southern Prince George's."

"Freddy Wineland," in the words of one county politician, "was the only game in town."

Today there are other words used to desribe the man who serves as the part-time, appointed, $24,000-a-year secretary of state. He is called a nice guy, a good fellow to share a lunch with in the basement cafeteria at the State House, a friend of the veterans, a suitable stand-in dignitary, a natty dresser. Fred Wineland, at age 51, is burning very slowly these days, much like his pipe.

His favorite governor and hunting pal, Marvin Mandel, has become a convicted felon. His longtime antagonist from Prince George's, Steny Hoyer, has become a gubernatoirialf candidate. Hoyer and another old adversary, political strategist Peter O'Malley, have long since stripped Wineland of his influence within the county Democratic party.

"He's still afforded the deference of a party scion," said a former colleague in the General Assembly, "but politically, he's a sad case and has been for some time He's got a deadend job."

On the February day seven years ago when he was sworn in as secretary of state, Wineland thought he was taking anything but a dead-end job. He knew that some people in Prince George's, particularly Hoyer and O'Malley, wanted him out of the way. "But I was willing to get booted upstairs, for political reasons," Wineland said in a recent interview. "I wanted to broaden my base to run for Congress or statewide."

Wineland made the run for Congress in 1974 and was trounced by Rep. Marjorie Holt, a republican from Anne Arundel County. The statewide race, he said, is something that still awaits.

"I see a role for myself in the 1978 election,' Wineland said lighting his pipe. "If I'm interested in an office, it would be lieutenant governor. And, under some circumstances, I would positively run for governor this year."

Those circumstances, according to Wineland's political confidants, involve him running as an independent should Hoyer win the democratic nomination. That is an unlikely situation. Many political strategists believe it is nearby as unlikely that Wineland will get on a state as a lieutenant governor candidate.

"There was some talk about Fred getting on Blair's ticket as comptroller," recalled one aide to Acting Gov. Blair Lee. "But that sort of faded when (current comptroller Louis Goldsteins ambitions faded."

Such talk does not faze Wineland. He said he has had private political discussions with two other potential candidates Ted Venetoulis and attorney general Francis Burch. He would be "flattered," he said, to be invited to run on a ticket with Venetoulis or Burch or Lee. Anyone but Hoyer.

Although Hoyer and Wineland have been on opposite sides of many battles over the last dozen years, there are some notable similarities in their careers, similarities that are not lost on Wineland.

"Steny is at about the same position at age 37 that Fred was at that age," said one delegate who considers them both friends. "But Fred has to think that it was Steny and O'Malley who more than anyone else made it difficult for him to get any further than he did."

From the moment Houer entered the Senate on a reform ticket in 1966, Wineland, who was alligned with the party's Old Guard faction, began losing influence in Annapolis and back in the county. Hoyer grabbed the senate leadership role. Hoyer and O'Malley began reconstructing the county organization. Wineland made one attempt to advance during those years, but finished third in a 1968 congressional primary contest.

Much of his time was spent developing the family business - a chain of Washington-area theatres that grew from a silent movie house run by his father and mother (she played the piano) in the 1920s to an 18-theatre enterprise by the 1960s.

Wineland campaigned vigorously for Marvin Mandel in 1970 and was rewarded with the state job, which then offered a $12,000 salary. "He became a loyal and hard-working trooper for Marvin," said Frank DeFilippo, Mandel's former press secretary."He may have been perceived as more loyal to Marvin than he was to the county Democrats."

Mandel and Wineland became hunting pals - goose hunting on Maryland's Eastern Shore, antelope hunt-Alaska. "Marvin was a good shot," recalled Wineland, "but so was I." Wineland was too good a shot during one goose hunting trip. He bagged the goose, but if fell from the sky smack onto his head, knocking him out. Wineland was left with four broken ribs and a mention in the "Scorecard" section of Sports Illustrated.

His official duties as secretary of state were largely ceremonial, as they had been since the days in the early 1960s when Lloyd (Hotdog) Simkins ran the office; Wineland was fed up with the Breakfast Club and stopped attending.

"The general direction of the club didn't mesh with my philosophy," he said. "I had the feeling that in many cases the decisions were being made in private before any of us got there. So I just quietly faded away."

"A lot like the old soldier," said Skip Bullen, Wineland's legal counsel and frequent companion.

"Yeh," said Wineland. "But it was my choice . . . by choice."