A patient audience of 200 Mongomery County residents last week heard campaign speeches from 17 of the 23 candidates entered in two U.S. Congressional races in Maryland.

When the long string of speeches ended, the weary crowd was left with at least one consolation. After the May 13 primary, only one Democrat and one Republican will contend for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Sen. Charles McC. Mathias and the 8th District House seat held by Democratic Rep. Michael Barnes of Montgomery County.

This leaves only six weeks for Maryland voters to learn something about the candidate and what they represent.

A few names and faces were instantly recognizable at the Gaithersburg meeting sponsored by the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce last week.

Mathias was there to defend his turf against four of the five Republican challengers who were present.

His opponents include: Roscoe Bartlett Jr. of Frederick who describes himself as a "scientist, engineer, educator, farmer and businessman;" John Brennan of Anne Arundel, a lawyer; V. Dallas Merrell of Montgomery, a management consultant; and Jack Holden, a Prince George's County law enforcement officer.

On the Democratic side, there are 12 candidates seeking Mathias' job. The most politically prominent of those who attended the meeting were State Senators Edward Conroy of Prince George's County and Victor Crawford of Montgomery County. Both are running in the senatorial primary on the reputations they have established in Annapolis, as are State Sen. Robert Douglass and Del. Dennis McCoy, both of Baltimore. Douglas and McCoy did not attend.

Other candidates in the Democratic Senate race are Frank Broschart of Prince George's, a social studies teacher at Bishop McNamara High School; lawyers Mello Cottone and R. spencer Oliver, both of Montgomery and lawyer Richard Taranto of Harford. Candidate Kurt Summers of Mongomery said he is an administrator, "not just another career politician."

Democratic Barnes attended although he is unopposed in the Democratic primary. All four Republicans vying for the chance to run against him in the November election were present, including state Del. Constance Morella, state Del. Robin Ficker, Phillip Buford and former Rep. Newton Steers, all of Montgomery.

However dissimilar their backgrounds, the candidates were united in their attacks on the status quo. Responding to three questions posed by the Chamber of Commerce, they agreed that the federal budget needs to be balanced, that alternative sources of energy must be developed and that government regulation of private industry has run rampant.

Not surprisingly, inflation was described as a major ill.

"This is 1929 if I ever saw it and I wasn't even born yet then," said Crawford. "But I grew up during the Depression and I wouldn't want to go through that again."

Crawford, who says his "forte" is tax legislation, proposed standby wage and price controls, and a change in the way the consumer price index is computed as a means of controlling inflation. Crawford added that he supports gas rationing, a stance that elicited a loud, disapproving murmur from the audience.

Conroy disagreed with his Annapolis colleague on the question of government controls on the economy. He said he supports a strong defense posture that would help "create the image we used to have in the free world." He also advocated sunset laws, the development of alternative fuels and the passage of a bill, now in Senate committees, that would limit regulation of business.

Democratic Senate candidate Taranto said he would support "a wage-price freeze." Bartlett, a Republican, said the first step toward controlling inflation is "to stop printing 'counterfeit' money." Brennan, one of his colleagues, commented that government over-regulation has added to inflation by eroding industry profits.

"I am a capitalist," said Brennan. "I love the word 'profit' and no one's ever going to take it out of my vocabulary. Horatio Alger no longer exists in our minds and we don't tell our children about him."

When Democrat Cottone told the crowd that "the cure for inflation may be worse than the illness," he was applauded. He proposed a tax cut as a way to "boost investment and savings."

Democrat Oliver disagreed, saying that the government needs to balance its budget and build up a surplus before considering tax cuts.

"One of the key causes of inflation is energy," Oliver said. "One of our worst mistakes is the decontrol of oil prices. And Sen. Mathias has criticized President Carter for not decontrolling oil immediately . . . We have to conserve but not by forcing prices through the roof."

Oliver said nuclear energy could help alleviate the energy shortage "to some extent." But he recommended imposing a nuclear energy moratorium until further safety measures are implemented.

Nuclear energy found a more ardent supporter on the GOP side of the fence in Republican Holden.

"We need the confidence to reach out for nuclear power," Holden said. "I don't get my advice from Jane Fonda and the movies. I say 'full speed ahead.'"

Mathias countered that the problem of nuclear waste disposal must be solved before nuclear energy can be practical. He advocated other, more conventional energy sources, such as conversion to coal, as alternatives to importing foreign oil.

"We've got to conserve rigorously," Mathias said. "As individuals, we need an energy ethic. We should revitalize the hydroelectric plants on streams and rivers that we abandoned because oil was plentiful."

Mathias proposed several remedies for inflation, including exemption from taxes of the interest earned on savings accounts. He also discussed a measure pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which he is a member, that would "provide by statute an immedate process by which deficit spending can be eliminated."

Republican Merrill and Democrat Summers focused on Mathias and what they both termed "his liberal voting record." Summers contended that Mathias has contributed to increase federal spending while voting to reduced money spent for defense.

"He has high name recognition but very few people understand his liberal voting record," Merrill said of Mathias, challenging him to a debate. "Since he won't change his mind, the people ought to change their senator."

Barnes said that watching the battles in this Congress over how to slow inflation was going to be a fascinating experience." He said the lines of battle are already drawn in anticipation of budget cuts.

"My office is awash with lobbyists from every conceivable group," Barnes said. "They say 'cut that, cut that but don't cut us'. Some portions of the budget are politically sancrosanct."

In response to Republicans, such as Morella, who urged "fiscal restraint" as a solution to inflation, Barnes said his GOP opponents should speak specifically about the programs they would vote to eliminate.

"The 96th is a record-making Congress," Morella said. "No Congress in recent memory has done less . . . By October first of last year Congress had failed to complete action on nine out of 12 of the principal appropriation bills."

Democratic senate candidates who did not attend included John Kennedy of Harford County, James Young of Anne Arundel County, and David Shaw of Carroll County. Republican senate candidate Gerald Warren of Anne Arundel also did not attend. The Candidates House of Representatives, 8th District Democrats Rep. Michael D. Barnes Republicans Phillip Buford Robin Ficker Del. Constance Morella Newton Steers U.S. Senate Democrats Frank Broschart, Prince George's County Edward Conroy, Prince George's Mello Cottone, Montgomery Victor Crawford, Montgomery Robert Douglass, Baltimore John Kennedy, Harford Dennis McCoy, Baltimore R. Spencer Oliver, Montgomery David Shaw, Carroll Kurt Summers, Montgomery Richard Taranto, Harford James Young, Anne Arundel Repulicans Roscoe Bartlett Jr., Frederick County John Brennan, Anne Arundel Jack Holden, Prince George's Charles McC. Mathias, Frederick V. Dallas Merrell, Montgomery Gerald Warren, Anne Arundel