Members of Montgomery County's "Merit Team" for County Council, still smarting after the controversy surrounding their radio advertisement was branded as misleading, now have fired the same charge at the United Democrats, their opponents in Tuesday's Democratic primary.

The latest United Democrats mailing to county voters includes photographs of Gov. Harry Hughes, U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, and Congressman Michael D. Barnes, beneath the heading "The People Who Endorse . . . "

Underneath the pictures, the brochure says what it means: that the United Democrats are "The People Who Endorse" Hughes, Sarbanes and Barnes. But the opposing Merit Team is charging that the brochure at first glance is ambiguous, and will deliberately mislead people into thinking that Hughes, Sarbanes and Barnes are "The People who endorse" the United Democrats.

Neither Hughes, Sarbanes nor Barnes has endorsed either County Council slate.

The escalating charges and counter-chargest reflect the increasing bitterness that has characterized this Democratic party feud, one of the nastiest primary fights in memory in a county that boasts of its good government image.

The Merit Team got into trouble earlier this week for airing a radio advertisement using a quotation from Barnes. The United Democrats, the chairman of the county's Democratic party, and Barnes all said the radio spot left the impression that Barnes had endorsed the Merit Team.

Yesterday, Merit Team members, in a prepared statement, said all the flak over their radio spot was "a smokescreen" to cover up for the United Democrats' mailing, which began finding its way into county mailboxes yesterday.

United Democrats' members dismissed the accusations as scurrilous, since the captions beneath the pictures clearly read; "Harry Hughes FOR governor," "Paul Sarbanes FOR U.S. Senator," and "Mike Barnes FOR U.S. Congressman."

Judy DeSarno, Barnes' congressional aide, called the whole affair this week "an extraordinary experience." Referring to the Merit Team's radio spot, and the latest United Democrats' mailing, DeSarno said, "They obviously both played games. We're out of it now. They've both done it, so if they want to continue taking pot shots at each other that's their business. As far as I'm concerned, they've cancelled each other out."