Outside a Baltimore church where political candidates gathered for a forum this year, the driveway gave a quick indication of the range of contenders seeking to become the next U.S. senator from Maryland.

By the entrance sat a gleaming state-owned Lincoln Town Car that delivered Gov. Harry Hughes. A few yards away was a pickup truck, its bumpers, doors and cab festooned with political signs: "War is the Real Enemy," "U.S. Out of El Salvador," "Love Animals, Don't Eat Them," and "Your Taxes Pay for Torture, Rape and Murder in Central America."

The truck belonged to A. Robert Kaufman, a leftist activist and one of 19 candidates running for U.S. Senate in Maryland's Sept. 9 primary.

"I am a socialist. I believe society should not be run for the sake of enriching a few people," said Kaufman, a 55-year-old former photographer, taxi driver, warehouse clerk, and lifelong Baltimorean who has previously run for the Senate, the House of Representatives and governor. He said he does not hope to win so much as to "activate people in the right direction. There's no way to deal with society's problems outside of organizing a mass movement."

Kaufman is perhaps the best known of the group of ideologues, retirees, publicity-seekers and wishful thinkers known politely as the "minor" candidates for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by GOP Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. Unlike other states that require candidates to collect signatures on petitions to get on the ballot, Maryland asks only for $290, valid voter registration and a properly filled-out form.

Those running this year include eight Democrats, among them Hughes, Reps. Barbara A. Mikulski and Michael D. Barnes, and 11 Republicans, including former White House aide Linda Chavez and Silver Spring lawyer George W. Haley. Former businessman Richard P. Sullivan dropped out of the race too late to remove his name from the ballot.

While Hughes, Mikulski, Barnes and Chavez are household words in at least some parts of the state, the majority of names on the ballot belong to people lacking money, contacts or political experience who have been struggling mightily against anonymity and indifference:Baltimore hotel owner Michael Schaefer, 48, a Republican, former San Diego council member and landlord once convicted for housing violations, whose campaign for the GOP nomination uses posters and literature almost identical to campaign materials used by Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer, a Democrat favored to win the party's gubernatorial nomination. The Schaefers are not related. Debra H. Freeman, 32, a Democrat from Baltimore and follower of extremist and perpetual presidential candidate Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. Freeman advocates government quarantining of AIDS patients, using military aircraft to shoot down planes carrying drugs, and abolishing the International Monetary Fund. Freeman identifies herself as "Dr. Freeman" and says she holds a PhD from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where officials said they have no record of her attendance. Howard D. Greyber, 63, a Republican retired federal employe from Potomac, who said he would be "the first U.S. senator with a PhD in physics and an expertise in the design of thermonuclear weapons." Leonard E. Trout Jr., 56, a retired lawyer and former employe of the Social Security Administration in Baltimore who believes the other Democratic candidates are too liberal for Maryland and offers, as an example of his qualifications, that he has "been married to the same girl for 39 years." Nicholas T. Nonnenmacher, 65, a retired, longtime GOP congressional aide from Anne Arundel County who began his campaign advocating a restricted interpretation of the 14th Amendment, which provides civil rights guarantees. He expanded that theme and recently said he also advocates constitutional amendments banning legal abortions, guaranteeing prayer in the schools and including specific references to God in the U.S. Constitution. Abraham H. Kalish, 80, a retired professor from Sandy Spring who said he is running in the GOP primary to promote a complicated theory for bringing world peace and economic prosperity through mandatory 6 percent mortgage rates. Edward M. Olszewski, 57, a retired Air National Guard officer and civil servant from Baltimore who filed for the Senate seat two years ago because he said Maryland needs a senator with a more conservative outlook and military experience to work for nuclear disarmament. Howard (Rosey) Rosenberg, 65, a sales representative to liquor wholesalers and Republican from Silver Spring who is advocating "firm punishment for rapists, drug pushers, child abusers and wife batterers" and vows to "fight any legislation that is harmful to America or injurious to the people of Maryland." Horace S. Rich, 67, a retired Republican business executive and National Guard officer from Baltimore who does not solicit or accept campaign contributions or allow his family to be interviewed and said his experience as an Army officer and churchgoer has taught him "leadership and the ability to analyze complex issues." Monroe Cornish, 52, a Baltimore Republican and candidate in past years for mayor of Baltimore and governor who said he is running to "let the people know I was handcuffed to one of John W. Hinckley's assassination planners." Democrat Boyd W. Sweatt, who in a candidates' statement to The Washington Post claims to have "personally uncovered a plot to flood community college and technical institutes nationwide with narcotics hidden in in-going AV equipment and supplies" and says he has a "record for integrity few men in history can match." Melvin Perkins, a perpetual candidate who has run for different offices as a member of different parties. This year he is registered as a Republican. And Kaufman, whose combination of ideological haranguing and standup comedy has made him one of the more popular features of the Democratic circuit, except on a few occasions when he has been arrested for disrupting debates that included only Hughes, Mikulski and Barnes.

So far, the only candidate to draw notice from the political establishment is Michael Schaefer, whom one state GOP official called "an aberration and a disgrace" after statewide polls showed that he was in second place behind Chavez with about 10 percent of the Republican vote.

Schaefer insists he is a serious candidate who favors the death penalty in espionage cases and "would not oppose a gallows at the airport to dissuade hijackers." He said he is using the "name's the same" ploy only to get attention for his candidacy.

Other candidates also have enlivened the election year, as Nonnenmacher did last week when he explained to the Montgomery County branch of the NAACP why he merited support from black voters: "I was on the track team at NYU New York University , and we looked for these black runners and jumpers to bring home the bacon and, boy, they sure did. I was integrated with them back in '46. The problem is not race. It's economics."

The crowd seemed puzzled by these and most of the other answers. "I'm not sure where he was coming from," Wanda Watson, a 22-year-old Rockville resident attending her first political forum, said of one of the candidates. "Some candidates up there give mediocrity a bad name," added Jon Gerson.

Nevertheless, NAACP officials said the organization's tradition of inclusiveness required that all official candidates be invited. "Who are we to define before the election who is credible and who is not?" asked publicity director Hanley Norment.