Maryland Del. Nancy Kopp (D-Montgomery) was incorrectly identified as a state senator in a story Sunday. (Published 12/8/87)

Maryland Del. Peter Franchot (D-Montgomery), criticizing Republican Rep. Constance A. Morella's leadership while the country is at a "critical crossroads," announced yesterday that he will seek Morella's congressional seat.

Franchot, 40, a freshman legislator from Takoma Park, is the first Democrat to announce his candidacy for the 8th District office. He admitted that he would have an uphill race against the popular Morella, but said his campaign will show that Morella's voting record is at odds with the views of Montgomery County.

"I am entering this race because I think that we are at a critical crossroads in this country -- and because I think that as we stand at this crossroads, all we are getting from our representative in Congress is either wrong directions or no directions at all," Franchot told about 100 friends and supporters during his announcement in Silver Spring. A contingent of state representatives, including Montgomery County delegation leaders Sen. Larry Levitan and Del. Michael Gordon, were there to endorse Franchot.

Franchot, a lawyer and former staff director for Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), is not the first choice of Democratic Party activists who unsuccessfully had tried to get State Sen. Nancy Kopp or County Council President Rose Crenca to run. Franchot, who ran an independent grass-roots campaign to win the District 20 seat last year in an upset, has been criticized by some party leaders as overly ambitious.

Answering that criticism yesterday, Franchot said he would stand aside if Democrats such as County Executive Sidney Kramer or Michael D. Barnes, who gave up the 8th District congressional seat in his unsuccessful bid for Senate in 1986, were running. "The issues are too important to let Connie Morella with her voting record go unchallenged," he said.

Franchot expressed confidence that he could win unified Democratic Party backing to take the seat. Democratic leaders are nervous that Morella will lock her hold on the seat if reelected to a second term. Nonetheless, some of those party officials are waiting to see who else will step forward.

The filing deadline for the March primary is Dec. 28.

Allan J. Lichtman, who teaches history at American University, has said he will run and is expected to announce his candidacy later.

Levitan said that although Franchot is a newcomer to the elected political office, "he is not a political novice." Gordon said that Franchot's years on Capitol Hill taught him more about Congress than Morella "could learn in the next 10 years."

Levitan also sounded the theme that as nice as Morella is, she can never, as a moderate Republican who often breaks with her party, gain the influence or leadership position in the Democrat-controlled House to have any real impact.

The 8th District, the sprawling southern half of Montgomery County from the District line to north of Gaithersburg, is 2-to-1 Democratic but has independent-minded Democrats with a historic habit of electing moderate Republicans.

Morella, who has raised $185,000, is expected to raise close to $1 million. Franchot said he has raised $30,000 and hopes to raise $500,000 for next year's race.

Franchot has worked as a professional fund-raiser for the Democratic National Party but said he is ending that relationship while he campaigns.