ANNAPOLIS, JUNE 7 -- Del. John R. Leopold (R) announced today that he has abandoned his plans to run for Anne Arundel county executive and will instead seek his party's nomination for a state Senate seat.

Leopold, 47, who has been campaigning unofficially for the county executive's job for three years, said he made the decision after concluding that he would probably lose to former House minority leader Robert R. Neall (R) in what promised to be a bitter primary fight.

"I am reluctant to abandon that race" for county executive, Leopold said. "I am obligated, however, to temper ambition with reality in order to continue to be in a position to serve the interests of my constituents."

Leopold, a Pasadena resident, now plans to challenge state Sen. Philip C. Jimeno (D), who was appointed to represent the 31st District in 1985. During the campaign, Leopold plans to fashion himself as "an independent voice" who will challenge the "tax and spend policies" of the administration of Gov. William Donald Schaefer (D), he said.

Meanwhile, Jimeno, who announced this week that he is running for reelection, said, "I've never seen him {Leopold} offer any cuts in the budget."

Jimeno added that he is "prepared to run a positive campaign. People will have strong choice of styles and in our family life."

Of Leopold's announcement, Neal said, "I think it bodes well for my chances, his chances and other Republican candidates," adding that he will now have the $300,000 he had planned to spend on the primary to battle the Democratic nominee. "The chances of unifying the party are a lot better now than if there was a contentious primary."

Last month, Leopold angered some fellow Republicans by announcing that he was considering running for county executive as a Democrat rather than facing Neall in the primary. A poll Leopold commissioned had shown him trailing Neall by 10 percentage points.

After Leopold's announcement today, local Republicans indicated that his brief flirtation with party-switching has been all but forgotten. Mary Rose, chairman of the local central committee, had been particularly critical of Leopold's trial balloon but said his decision today has local Republicans "both relieved and excited."

"It is clear by the polls that Jimeno can be beaten and John is the man to do it," she said.