The battle for the office of Maryland comptroller heated up yesterday with Republican challenger Don Devine accusing incumbent Louis L. Goldstein of negligence in the awarding of a $1.9 million contract for construction of portable classrooms six years ago.

Democrat Goldstein, who immediately put his staff to work researching the publuc record on which Devine based his accusation, issued a statement late yesterday calling the charges "misleading and unsupported . . . the tactic of a desperate man."

Devine, in a morning press conference on the steps of the old Arnory Building, which houses the state Board of Public Works, sought to link Goldstein to the contract award to Globe Industries, which was not the apparent low bidder. The contract later resulted in the bribery and extortion conviction of Alfred R. (Skip) Carey, the school construction chief, who was found guilty of receiving money from Globe.

The Board of Public Works, consisting of the comptroller, the governor and the state treasurer, approved the contract on May 26, 1972.

"Mr. Goldstein was either involved in this scandal or he didn't exercise sufficient watchfulness," said Devine. "Goldstein was negligent at least."

Goldstein, Devine charged, "has been there through 20 years of corruption and he doesn't see anything. He's the only oneleft who stayed through this whole period. He's the last one of the old crowd."

Goldstein quoted from the transcript of the board's May 26, 1972, meeting to prove that he had questioned awarding the contract to Globe, whose bid appeared to be $11,000 more than the next closed competitor.

According to the transcipt, Carey said the other firm had failed to include windows in its bid that would have added $20,000 to its total. "That information should be in the record," Goldstein said, according to the transcript.

Devine also criticized the board's shifting of responsiblity for payments and record-keeping in the school construction program to Carey, who was executive director of an interagency committee. Goldstein said the board was only following the advice of the legislative auditor, "who is an independent official in Maryland."