The hard-fought Democratic gubernatorial primary began as a six-man race, but narrowed to four when Senate President Steny Hoyer agreed to accept the second spot on Acting Governor Blair Lee's ticket and Attorney General Francis B. (Bill) Burch dropped out of the race after he had difficulty raising funds and lost ground in published polls.

The Democratic Party hopefuls are: Harry Hughes; an attorney and former secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation; Acting Governor Blair Lee III, a lieutenant governor, former secretary of state and member of the House of Delegates; Walter S. Orlinsky, president of the Baltimore City Council and a former member of the House of Delegates, and Baltimore County Executive Theodore G. Venetoulis, a political analyst.

Hughes, 51, of 20 Bouton Ct., Baltimore, is running on the theme of making citizens "proud again to be a Marylander" following the notoriety the state received during the political corruption investigations and trials of former Vice President Spiro Agnew and suspended governor Marvin Mandel:

"They all talk about corruption," said Hughes, "but I'm the only one who put my job on the line." Hughes said he resigned as secretary of transportation when he suspected other state officials of attempting to award a contract to a politically connected firm that Hughes thought was less qualified than other bidders. The contract was for managing the construction of the Baltimore subway.

In his campaign, Hughes has stressed his governmental experience: as the head of the transportation department, as a state delegate from 1955 to 1958, as a state senator from 1959 to 1970, as Senate majority floor leader and as chairman of the state Democratic Party.

In response to Washington Post questions on taxes, Hughes said he favors a "broad reform of state taxes and the state and local tax relationships with the purpose of shifting even further the (tax) burden from property taxes to taxes based on the ability to pay. I have proposed as part of this reform to have property taxes support the services related to property, such as fire and police protection, trash collection, etc., and to use other taxes, collected on the ability to pay, to support other governmental programs."

Hughes "strongly supports putting ceilings on government expenditures," although he believes this "should be done within the currently existing process," rather than with a constitutional amendment such as California's Proposition 13.

Hughes' running mate is Samuel W. Bogley, 36, of 12200 Rockledge Dr., Bowie, a lawyer and member of the Prince George's County Council. Bogley has been a zoning enforcement officer, chief clerk of the People's Court and legislative representative of the Prince George's Chamber of Commerce.

Acting Governor Lee is stressing his experience, his record and his reputation in seeking election to the post he has held since Mandel was automatically suspended from office last year after being convicted of political corruption charges. "You don't have to wonder whether Blair Lee can do the job as governor," says his latest brochure, "he's already doing it.?

As governor, Lee, 62, of Silver Spring, tells voters he pushed through legislation that resulted in an immediate 10 percent reduction in property tax assessments for homeowners. While serving on the state's Board of Public Works, he says, he was responsible for reducing the state property tax by three cents. Lee says he also instituted a new ethics code by executive order when efforts to approve a code failed in the state legislature and mentions his efforts in behalf of a law requiring that all increases in fuel costs be reviewed by the Public Service Commission before being passed on to customers.

In response to questions from The Washington Post, Lee said he would favor legislation to make the income tax the major source of revenue for state government, but not for the counties "at the time."

He would not support a constitutional amendment along the lines of Proposition 13, he says, but would support an amendment to limit annual increases in state spending.

Lee's running mate, Steny H. Hoyer, 39, of 6621 Lacona St., Berkshire, in Prince George's County, is an attorney who has served as president of the Maryland Senate and on numerous political commissions. He was elected to the Senate in 1966 and has been active with the Young Democratic Club in the state and nationally. Hoyer himself was considered a serious contender for the governorship until he agreed in May to accept the lieutenant governor spot on the Lee ticket.

Orlinsky, president of the Baltimore City Council, in his campaign for governor has stressed that he is "an alternative (candidate) willing to talk about issues."

Orlinsky, 40, of 1530 Bolton St., Baltimore, has devised, for example, an elaborate eight-point program to strengthen the economy of the state, which has lost more than 40,000 industrial and manufacturing jobs during the last seven years.

Orlinsky proposes: 1. to strengthen efforts to retain existing industry; 2. to launch a national and international marketing and promotional program to bring in new industry; 3. to insure that the Port of Baltimore becomes increasingly economically competitive with other ports; 4. to assist local jurisdictions in developing and marketing their recreational and other tourist related resources; 5. to develop the Maryland coal industry; 6.to assist in the redevelopment of older commercial areas; 7. to develop a well designed transportation plan for the entire state, and 8. to develop the area lying within the "Chesapeake Triangle" - Annapolis, Frederick, Baltimore City, and the District of Columbia - as an economic common market.

In response to Post questions, Orlinsky said that, if elected, he would recommend a program that would "phase in an honest graduated income tax with a compulsory reduction in property taxes, and in response, the state would simultaneously have to assume an increasingly greater share of the cost of education."

He does not support a Proposition 13-type amendment for Maryland. "Although I understand the sentiments which form the base of the Proposition 13 movement, I do not believe that Proposition 13 represents the best way to deal with those concerns. . . . A more rational cure is to rationalize state expenditures, reduce the size and complexity of the bureaucracy and to rely much more heavily on income-responsive taxes."

Orlinksky's running mate is Ronald N. Young, 37, the mayor of the City of Frederick. Young is immediate past president of the Maryland Municipal League, has served as a member of the Frederick City Board of Aldermen and has served as a delegate to the 1972 Democratic Convention.

Venetoulis, the Baltimore County Executive, has been a college teacher, political analyst and campaign manager for Baltimore Mayor William Donald Shaefer. He is campaigning on the theme "Venetoulis for a New Maryland."

Running four years ago in his first race for elective office, Venetoulis defeated the organization that had controlled Baltimore County Democratic politics for years. This year, in his gubernatorial race, Venetoulis has stressed his role as an outsider. "Maryland needs new leadership," he says in his brochures. "Maryland has changed in recent years. Its population has grown faster than any state on the East Coast except Florida. Its reputation for political corruption has grown equally fast . . . We can't afford four more years like the last 10."

In response to the Post's questions, Venetoulis, 44, of 3 Garrison Farms Ct., suburban Baltimore, said he is a "strong proponent of reducing the reliance on property taxes by reforming the state tax structure and enacting a progressive graduated income tax." As a part of this he has proposed a "tax relief option that would allow cities and counties to increase the amount of state income taxes they receive, provided all the money gained from the new tax would be used to replace revenue now gained through local property taxes."

Asked if he favors a Proposition 13-type constitutional amendment in 'Maryland, Venetoulis says, "To assure that Maryland's government starts to live within its means, I have proposed several important measures, including not increasing the present number of state employes (62,000) during my term of office, and bringing the state debt under control."

Venetoulis's running mate is Ann Stockett, 39, of 100 Claude St., Annapolis, who is an Anne Arunol County Councilwoman and has been the legislative representative for he State League of Women Voters.

All of the Democratic candidates for governmor, asked by the post to express their views on whehter the state should provide abortions for welfare recipents said, in essence, yet.

Hughes said that state funds should be provided "but only after full and adequate consultation as to be other options available."

Lee said he believed the present eligibility standards are "satisfactory."

Orlinsky said, "I do not believe that a woman who has decided to have an abortion should be denied that abortion because of economic circumstances."

Venetoulis responded: "I am presonally opposed to abortion on religious grounds; yet I recognize that many Marylanders - perhaps most - disagree with my views on this matter . . . The state's decision is not one of the legality of abortion, but whether it should be a procedure restricted to persons of means. I don't believe it should, and therefore, I think the state should offer assistance to any woman who is eligible for or already receiving government medical aid."