ANNAPOLIS, NOV. 18 -- Recognizing political reality, Gov. William Donald Schaefer today gave up his idea of running slates of uncommitted delegates in Maryland's March 8 Democratic presidential primary and turned loose the state's elected Democrats to endorse their own candidates.

After a breakfast meeting with the state's congressional delegation and other top elected officials in the governor's mansion, Schaefer said he had abandoned plans to run as a favorite son or field uncommitted delegates who ultimately could unite behind one candidate and give him more clout at the Democratic National Convention. "There's no percentage in it," Schaefer said.

The reality, most of those who attended the meeting said later, is that voters don't want to turn over their proxies even to a popular powerbroker. And many of the state's leading Democrats, who may run as delegates, have already picked their favorites anyway.

"We agreed to go out and work like hell for the candidate we believe in," said Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), who is cochairman of the Jesse Jackson campaign in Maryland.

Mfume and others said part of the message from the meeting was that candidates should pick delegates who would work for the eventual nominee, and every official who strolled down the walk from the mansion to meet reporters carried the same slogan: "party unity."

"We left with a real sense of harmony," said Schaefer, who added he did not know if he would endorse a candidate before Super Tuesday. Schaefer already has met with Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.) and Sen. Albert Gore (Tenn.) and has a meeting with Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis scheduled for Dec. 16. A meeting with Sen. Paul Simon (Ill.) was canceled last week because of a snowstorm, and campaign officials are trying now to reschedule.

Maryland Democrats face a changed political landscape in 1988 -- and potentially a more important role -- because the primary for the first time is being moved from May to the March 8 Super Tuesday, to coincide with most other southern states. While there is uncertainty about exactly how hard presidential candidates will stump the state, political pros agree on one thing: Jackson has the most strength at this time.

Most political pros say Jackson cannot be beaten in the 5th Congressional District, which includes most of Prince George's County, and in Mfume's Baltimore-based 7th District in Baltimore. Both have large black constituencies and went solidly for Jackson in 1984.

Nearly 25 percent of the registered Democratic voters in Maryland are black.

Most of Prince George's black elected officials have endorsed Jackson and are kicking off his campaign in the county on Sunday, and Jackson is to be in Baltimore on Monday for a fund-raiser for Mfume.

After the publicity of Iowa and New Hampshire, what Jackson and other candidates are looking for in Maryland is delegates. The state will send 77 delegates and 22 alternates to the Atlanta convention, plus those members of the state's congressional delegation selected by their peers on Capitol Hill.

Forty-four delegates will be chosen at the polls on March 8, when voters choose delegates pledged to candidates identified on the ballot. In addition, 23 delegates will be allocated according to the percentage of the statewide vote the candidates receive in the primary.

Many party activists felt that Schaefer's plan for running uncommitted slates would keep well-known officials off the slates of the candidates, and that the only exception would be those officials who already have pledged to Jackson.

The officials also agreed that the uncomitted plan probably wouldn't work. "It's very, very difficult to elect an uncommitted slate," said Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening, who said he will probably remain neutral in the primary. "People want to vote for someone."

He also said the officials at today's breakfast were much like the population at large: "There wasn't anything near a consensus for anyone."

Maggie McIntosh, who heads the Dukakis campaign in Maryland, said she hoped Schaefer's decision will bring forth elected officials who favor Dukakis but were abiding by the governor's request to remain neutral. Baltimore County Executive Dennis Rasmussen is one thought to be in that category.

Party activists also say that the state's U.S. senators, Paul Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, lean toward Dukakis, although both have pledged to remain neutral in the race. Wendy Sherman, who ran Mikulski's campaign last year, is director of Washington operations for Dukakis.

Del. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George's), national treasurer of the Simon campaign, said today's decision creates a "level playing field" for Simon and other candidates in the state. He also said it would benefit the eventual nominee's chances if the candidates select delegates "who have a long-term stake in the party."

The Simon campaign has one full-time staff member working in the state, and Rosapepe said Simon is hoping for the support of organized labor in the Baltimore area. Simon already has a campaign organization in place in Montgomery County, and the support of former senator Joseph Tydings.

Gore, who is supported in the state by Democratic national fund-raiser Nathan Landow of Montgomery County and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's), is opening an office in Baltimore later this week.

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) said after today's meeting that he will now formally endorse Gephardt. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has also helped Gephardt in the past, but he said today that he will not make a formal endorsement before the primary.