Sen. Victor L. Crawford (D-Montgomery), who has seen his hat trampled in more political rings than he cares to remember, announced today that he is running again -- this time for the U.S. Senate.

His new campaign has all the trappings of a deadly serious effort to win the Democratic nomination and then challenge Sen. Charles McC. Mathias (R.-Md.), who looms as a heavy favorite against any opponet in November.

Crawford was flanked today by his self-proclaimed "hired gun" from New York, a veteran campaign coordinator who has worked for presidential hopefuls, gubernatorial winners and whose services, Crawford said, "do not come cheap." The state senator and lawyer from Silver Spring also said he is prepared to pour $40,000 of his own money into the campaign this year.

"Look, some people like to buy houses in Monaco, some people like to buy limousines, I like politics so I'm willing to spend my own money on it," said Crawford, the quick-witted veteran state senator.

But if Crawford plans to defeat the low-key, liberal Mathias, he may have to start shoveling money in fast. Mathias, according to his most recent campaign contribution documents, collected more than $14,000 last year, much of it in $1,000 chunks from political action committees formed by labor.

"I know it's a long shot," Crawford said today of his senatorial bid. "But it's a shot . . . a shot at the title, and we're the only two in the ring."

This is the fourth time in the last five years that Crawford has gone off in search of higher office -- first for another U.S. Senate seat ultimately won by Paul S. Sarbanes, then for the U.S. attorney's post and finally for the 8th Congressional District seat.

Crawford actively sought the first two positions, but still believes he "missed the boat" by toying with but never really committing himself to the congressional race.

This year, one senatorial friend observed, the race for statewide office has worked "subtle changes" on the 47-year-old Crawford, who has never been known for subtlety before.

"Vic has a whole new wardrobe," he said. "He wears vests every day. I see a whole new pattern, subdued, very subdued. He's less of a hip-sooter."

But another Democratic colleague disagreed. "No, it's the same old Vic," said De. Gerard Devlin (D-Prince George's). "What you see is what you get."

And what you see, according to many of Crawford's collagues, is a flamboyant, sharp-tongued senator who's not afraid to take a scythe to the opposition.

Today, when a potential primary opponent, State Senate President James Clark Jr. (D-Howard) wandered into the Senate lounge where Crawford was making his campaign announcement, the press surrounded Clark and asking "Are you going to run?"

As the low-key Clark explained, "I'm still thinking about it and I have till next Monay," Crawford stood near him, mouthing the words: "He won't run. He won't run."

Although there are still several other potential primary opponents still on the horizon, Crawford saved his barbs today for the popular Mathias, accusing him of everything from misusing his free senatorial postage privileges to making the "worst vote of his life" by supporting the decontrol of oil.

A Mathias aide later denied the first accusation and said the senator has always believed that decontrol "is the one way to beat the problem of depending on the Middle East for oil.

"He really came at us, huh?" the unflappable aide joked when told of Crawford's accusations.

Meanwhile, Crawford continued to hold court today, answering reporters questions outside his committee hearing room and inside the leathery Senate lounge. By the time the day was coming to a close, one of his Senate colleagues was answering the phone in the lounge with the words, "Hello, Crawford for Senate headquarters."