ANNAPOLIS -- Republican activists are reportedly encouraging Del. John R. Leopold (R-Anne Arundel) to run for the state Senate as an alternative to facing former House minority leader Robert R. Neall in the county executive's race.

Two weeks ago, Leopold angered some local GOP officials with his announcement that he was considering changing parties as a way of avoiding a bitter primary battle with the better-financed Neall. Several prominent local Republicans, including Sen. John A. Cade and Dels. Elizabeth S. Smith and John G. Gary, already have endorsed Neall's primary bid for county executive.

Despite the unhappiness with Leopold over the executive's race, some Republican officials said this week that they believe Leopold could mount a credible challenge to Sen. Philip C. Jimeno (D-Anne Arundel) in the general election.

"I think there would be tremendous support there for John" in a race against Jimeno, said Joyce Terhes, chairman of the state Republican Party. Tehres said the possibility of a Senate campaign by Leopold was mentioned often during last weekend's state party convention in Towson, which Leopold did not attend.

"People were saying he is considering that," she said. Last Monday, Leopold said he plans to make public his decision about which office to seek within a few days.

Jimeno, who ran unopposed in the 1986 Democratic primary and the general election, kicked off his campaign for a second Senate term Monday night. He said he is not worried about having a Republican challenger this time around.