Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes unofficially began his campaign for the U.S. Senate here tonight, shadowed by the savings and loan crisis that has plagued his administration for months.

As he arrived to play host at the first major fund-raiser of his Senate campaign -- he is to make a formal announcement of his candidacy next week -- he confronted about 50 S&L depositors angered that they have been prevented for several months from getting access to their funds.

They waved signs and jeered his arrival, but Hughes merely nodded and strode quickly past.

He did not repeat his actions of some months ago when he earned the nickname Back Door Harry for circumventing a similar demonstration at a smaller fund-raiser in Greenbelt.

"Just trying to make things a little miserable for him -- like he does us," said Charles Higgs, a retired sugar worker from Baltimore who carried a sign reading "Back Door Harry is Dead Meat."

Inside the ballroom of the Omni International Hotel crammed with a crowd of several hundred, Hughes received a warmer reception.

His spokesman, Hirsh Goldberg, said the event raised close to $300,000 through the sale of 1,300 tickets priced at $100 and $250.

Many who attended the event were also jeered by the depositors on arriving. One, Del. Sylvania Woods Jr. (D-Prince George's), described the depositors as "a very few who just happen to get the attention . . . . The majority of people know what [Hughes has] done."

Hughes, after seven years as governor and two successful statewide campaigns, is trailing front-runner U.S. Rep. Barbara Mikulski, a Baltimore Democrat, in most statewide polls and lags behind Mikulski and the other Democratic candidates, Rep. Michael Barnes (D-Md.) and Baltimore County Executive Donald P. Hutchinson in fund raising so far.

Hughes' campaign organization, moreover, is "in a state of flux," according to his wife Patricia in a recent interview.

Earlier in the week, sources with ties to Hughes' political strategists said campaign manager Paul Bograd had quit suddenly in a dispute over the direction of the campaign.

Hughes said in an interview that Bograd "is leaving. He was only here on an interim basis."

Bograd said, "I just have some personal commitments that I have to deal with at home."