It was minutes before a press conference and Robert A. Pascal -- surrounded by his staff, each equipped with charts and statistics -- was being briefed on the plan he was about to unveil for retraining the unemployed.

"What about that stuff on what we've done in the county?" Pascal said.

"That's not for today, that's for another press conference," answered Jeff Koenig, Pascal's economic development adviser.

"Good," Pascal said, slamming his palm on the desk emphatically. "I want that one to be big, understand. Really big. The kind of thing that'll make some people sit up and take notice."

For Pascal, the county executive of Anne Arundel County and Republican candidate for governor, the most frustrating thing about the last six months has been his inability to get people to sit up and take notice of his campaign. In his home county and to a lesser extent in the Baltimore area, his name and face are familiar. But in the Washington suburbs, on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland, he remains a virtual unknown.

Pascal's problem is hardly unique. Getting known is the first hurdle faced by almost every candidate who tries to move from the local level to the state level. While the challengers are universally full of hope, they almost always lack the cash necessary to build name recognition.

"If you have about $1.5 million, name I.D. is no problem," said State Sen. Victor L. Crawford (D-Montgomery), who twice was unsuccessful in making the leap to statewide office. "With that kind of money you just blitz TV and everybody knows you. But very few people have that kind of money."

None of the three men trying to make the move this year, Pascal; State Sen. Harry J. McGuirk of Baltimore, who is challenging Gov. Harry Hughes in the Democratic primary; or Republican Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan, who is running against Democrat Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, has raised even half a million dollars yet.

More than anything, according to campaign veterans, candidates making an initial try for statewide office must be convinced that methods that made them a success locally are meaningless on the state level. Door knocking, the staple of district legislative races, is a futile exercise on the state level. Coffees and speeches to small groups play only a minor part in a statewide campaign. Radio advertising plays a more significant role, but by itself is not enough.

"The higher up you go, the more impersonal the campaign," said Del. O. James Lighthizer (D-Anne Arundel), who is attempting to jump from the local to county-wide level himself this year. "On the local level you can spend a couple of hours with a small group if you want to. Even on the county level you can't afford to do that. On the state level, you can't even think about that, it's a waste of time.

Nor can you do it by organizing a campaign in McGuirk's old-style Baltimore way, with phone calls to friends, favors called in and a lot of handshaking. Crawford recalls talking with McGuirk last March in the basement canteen at the Statehouse.

"Running statewide isn't just a different ballgame, it's a different sport," Crawford said. "I told Harry he had to have a media guy, a new image. The white hair and the pinky rings are fine in south Baltimore, but not statewide. He just looked at me and said, 'It's the same ballgame, it's just on a bigger field.' "

"Time is our problem," said Del. Paul E. Weisengoff (D-Baltimore), one of McGuirk's closest advisers. "We know there's anti-Hughes sentiment out there but we don't know if we can reach enough of it in time. That's what you need TV for."

"You have to have a lot of TV or you have to have a gimmick," said U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), who began a race for governor four years ago as president of the Maryland Senate but dropped back to the lieutenant governor slot after failing to convince enough Baltimore politicians that he was electable. "Lawton Chiles walked from one end of Florida to the other when he was running for the Senate. Or, you can pick up an issue, make it your issue, the kind that the public really notices. Different things work in different races.

"In 1978 Harry Hughes managed to emerge as the candidate who stood for integrity, who would clean up the government. He was thought of as squeaky clean," Hoyer said. "People didn't look at him and see a man appointed as state chairman by Marvin Mandel, they didn't see a man appointed secretary of transportation by Mandel, who served for seven years in Mandel's cabinet. They just saw a good, honest man. And he was elected."

This year, Pascal has tried to make several issues his issue. First, he tried crime and prisons. Then he tried auto emmission inspections, then the gasoline tax. Lately, he has moved to economic development. None as yet has caused people to "sit up and take notice."

McGuirk has tried to make leadership his issue, pointing to his record as a key member of the state Senate, claiming that it is the legislature, not the executive, that has provided leadership in the state.

Hogan has taken a somewhat similar tack with Sarbanes, calling him a do-nothing senator.

This is not Hogan's first statewide run. In 1974, then-congressman Hogan lost the Republican nomination for governor to Louise Gore. Hogan maintains that loss had nothing to do with campaign tactics, but with his vote to impeach then-president Richard Nixon.

"It was preordained," Hogan said. "People say Louise won because she organized the precincts better. That's baloney."

Even with the notoriety he received as a member of the House Judiciary Committee and from his statewide run eight years ago, Hogan's name recognition, according to his own poll, was 34 percent in February. Pascal's was less than 30 percent in May.

"Name recognition is important now, not on election day," Hogan said. "The reason name recognition is important now is money, is getting your campaign put together so that when people walk into the voting booth they have the perception of you that you want them to have. Name recognition doesn't get you elected. But it gives you a chance to do the things you have to if you want to win."

Del. Gerard F. Devlin (D-Prince George's), a student of political history, said "people can't be for you or against you if they don't know you exist. The problem is not just getting the money but deciding how to spend it once you get it. Jim Farley Franklin Roosevelt's campaign manager used to say that 50 percent of the money you spend in any campaign is wasted but the problem is you never know which 50 percent it is."

For Republicans, outnumbered three-to-one by Democrats, any mistake is magnified. "There is a tendency in a lot of the state for people to vote a straight party line," said Republican party chairman Allan C. Levey, who is making his first foray into elective battle by running for the state Senate in Montgomery County. "Obviously, when that happens, Republicans lose. You have to find some way to make an imprint on people's minds so your name jumps off the ballot at them . . . . If you don't make an impact early and you're just the Republican candidate, you lose."

The early part of a campaign is important to Republicans in Maryland for another reason: the national party. If the party sees that a Pascal or a Hogan has a legitimate chance to knock off an incumbent Democrat, it is likely to ride cavalry style to the rescue with large sums of money.

Hogan, who has tugged at President Reagan's coattails throughout the campaign, is counting on an influx of national money after the primary to finance his media campaign. Pascal is less likely to receive help, partly because he is by no stretch of the imagination a Reaganite and partly because he has not yet shown the party any evidence that he can beat Hughes.

"You may not be able to win an election in the early going but you can lose it," said Del. Luiz Simmons (R-Montgomery), who is attempting to move from the legislature to the county executive's office. "Remember, the attention span of the public is about 10 seconds. People just don't focus on politicians unless they are given a very good reason to do so. That's the toughest thing for any candidate as the arena he's in broadens."

"It's a whole different world," Pascal's wife, Nancy, discovered during a campaign swing in Montgomery County.

Campaigning in the past with her husband, who was reelected with more than 65 percent of the vote four years ago, she was used to warm, often ebullient greetings near home. Venturing into Democratic strongholds such as Montgomery County has been a shock for her, and for him -- not being recognized by many, then being ignored or treated rudely by others. It is an ego-deflating experience. As their campaign staffers will tell you, each of these candidates, Pascal, Hogan, McGuirk, are important men in their home areas. Suddenly, they find themselves treated as nonentities.

"It's easy to look at numbers in a poll that tell you your name recognition is low," said Pascal staffer Jerry Lipson. "It's a completely different thing to go out there and get bloodied. But that's the only way to change the situation. At the state level you have to bleed first and then, maybe, succeed later."