Whipping the microphone from his mahogany desk and striking his best civil libertarian pose, the senator from Silver Spring denounced his colleague's resolution as a blight on the First Amendment.

Sen. Victor L Crawford called on his colleagues to reject the measure which would keep voluntary prayer cases out of the courts.

Then he sat back down and voted for it anyway.

Crawford explained this apparent contradiction one night last week by saying, "The resolution doesn't do a damn thing. And how could you explain out in St. Mary's County that you voted against voluntary prayer?"

But his colleagues had a simpler explanation, stated succinctly in a word -- running.

Crawford and eight other legislators are hankering for higher office, and they have been going after those U.S. Senate and congressional seats with an undisguised passion that gripped them from the mid-session filing deadline to the legislature's final hours this weekend.

"It's funnier than anything to watch those guys trying to get one leg up on one another," said Sen. Harry McGuirk, the silver-haired South Baltimore Chieftain who is satisfied to wield his power here.

While the ambitious nine run with a strange mixture of pleasure and paranoia, their General Assembly colleagues have suffered along with the campaigns.

"Oh, God," groaned Sen. Laurence Levitan last month when he discovered that three state senators had filed for the May 13 Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate. "Now when one of them gets up to say something, they're all gonna have to get up to say something."

While the campaign's consequences have been reflected in the Senate, nowhere has the quest for Congress been more evident than in the House of Delegates where the garrulous Robin Ficker hones in his role as the "loyal opposition."

Ficker, a Montgomery Republican who has opposed everything from placing contraceptives in vending machines to putting D.C. senators in Congress, recently spent untold hours offering amendments -- all of them rejected -- to the state's $5.3 billion budget.

As Ficker hit his umpteenth offering, Del. Kenneth H. Masters fled from the floor.

"Even Job only had to put up with locusts and boils," Masters muttered as he strode into the lounge.

Ficker has gone after the press' attention with unmatched enthusiasm and news releases flying -- often to no avil. Though the press corps was treated last week to an announcement that "Ficker does well in nation-wide race," no one did the story. It turned out that the delegate had won third place in 300-yard dash.

Ficker's tactic and talking have so incensed his colleagues that a Prince George's delegate stomped over and sabotaged Ficker's microphone when Ficker was away from his desk one day last week. The microphone attack cost Del. Timothy Maloney a $100 repair bill. Another delegate remarked, "The silence was worth it."

And Ficker wore the incident like a badge of honor. "I'm outspoken," he said. "If that makes people mad -- too bad."

Each of the candidates in his own special way has gone after the attention and votes he craves, jealously watching the results of his opponents attempts to play to the constituents.

Last week, Sen. Edward T. Conroy (D-Prince George's), "went nuts," as one of his colleagues tells it, when he saw a Washington newspaper headline proclaiming "Compromise in the Senate Brings Montgomery a Bundle" with a smiling picture a Crawford underneath.

Conroy, who is also running in the U.S. Senate primary, and other Prince George's senators charged that Crawford had sold out their county in the deal. Reporters spent the day shuttling like war correspondent between Conroy and Crawford press conferences in marble halls.

When the fight ended with Prince George's winning its own concessions from the governor's office, the open warfare came to a halt. But Conroy walked over to Crawford the other night in the Senate's plushy lounge and asked him with a smile, "Well, who'd you sell out today Vic?"

Meanwhile, across the hall in the House, Del. Dennis McCoy, a Baltimore Irishman with a choirboy face, has taken the subtler approach in his primary battle against Conroy, Crawford and Baltimore Sen. Robert L. Douglass.

"You know, some of the senators have been threatening people on what will happen to their bills if they endorse the wrong man," McCoy confided the other day. Pressed for details, he demurred, saying, "I don't like to make any accusations."

McCoy is the only delegate seeking the Senate nomination, but he has plenty of campaigning company in delegates vying for Congress. Ficker is facing Del. Constance Morella in the 8th District GOP primary. And around the state, Dels, Roy Dyson (D-St. Mary's), Raymond Beck (R-Carroll) and Thomas Kernan (D-Baltimore County) are all looking to move up and out of the General Assembly, too.

The legislature has spawned five U.S. senators and at least one congressman in the recent past. So, once every four years, when the legislators are in the middle of their terms and their seats are safe, they "see the main chance and they go for it," according to Del. Gerard Devlin (D-Prince George's).

This year, as their ranks have swelled, each of the campaigners has carved out an individual approach to running.

Morella, for instance, has taken some stances on controversial issues like District of Columbia voting rights that could be construed as unpopular back home. After such roll calls, she sometimes announces, "Well, that was a courageous vote."

McCoy, on perhaps the hottest and most hard-fought issue of the session -- whether to place automatic limits on state spending -- chose to take an entirely different tack.

When the major spending limit bill came up for vote, McCoy, in legislative parlance, took a walk.

The Baltimore delegation chief explained his failure to vote on the issue by saying that he "supports spending limits philosophically," but believes they would hurt the city. "I was really caught between the devil and the deep blue sea," he said.

And so it goes in the 1980 General Assembly, where sights like Conroy posing for pictures before his personal photographer, Crawford holding court in the Senate lounge and Ficker popping to his feet to talk because more familiar than many delegates would have liked.

But as Sen. Jack Cade (R-Anne Arundel) likes to say about the races, "They're more of a joke than a problem around here."