Maryland gubernatorial candidate Theodore G. Venetoulis was nervously pacing the sidelines, calculating how to effectively penetrate the crowd of several hundred crab-eaters gathered under blue-and-white tents here at the J. Millard Tawes Annual Crab and Clam Bake for a day of seafood and politicking.

"I'm anxious standing still," Venetoulis, the Baltimore County executive, told an aide. "I'm ready to plunge. I think in about five minutes you're going to see the plunge. Do I go, or do I stay?"

Venetoulis finally plunged into the crowd, Shaking hands, kissing women and passing out bumper stickers. It was an act performed in varying degrees by almost every candidate for statewide office in Maryland this year. At least 15 of them descended on this town about 35 miles from Salisbury yesterday and helped turn the Tawes crab feast into a political convention.

The crab feast, thrown for the dapper 84-year-old former governor who is known hereabouts as teh "squire of Crisfield," provided an excellent chance for candidates to campaign among residents of the sparsely populated Eastern Shore who are normally hard to find in large groups.

Crab feasts are a ritual of Maryland politics, especially on the Eastern Shore where the crab is highly regarded both as a rich source of food and as a livelihood for the area's watermen.

"If you were in Iowa, they'd be roasting a steer," explained Baltimore City Council President Walter S. Orlinsky, a candidate for governor, whose staff placed campaign literature on windshields of parked cars at yesterday's affair. "In Maryland we eat crabs. Everyone who comes into contact with the Cheasapeake Bay and its fruits.

Acting Gov. Blair Lee III, a stately man who is often teased about eating his hard shell crabs with a knife and fork was a first gubernatorial candidate tgo greet crowds as they arrived at the American Legion grounds on the banks of Tangier Sound.