It has come to this.

Maryland state Sen. Margaret C. Schweinhaut used the word "baboon" in a television interview this week to refer to a candidate who would run a campaign on a single issue.

Her Democratic primary opponent in Montgomery County, Del. Patricia R. Sher, responded in an interview with The Washington Post: "She's a vicious old lady."

So goes the race between two former staunch allies: Schweinhaut, 85, the antiabortion candidate; Sher, 59, the abortion-rights advocate.

In an interview broadcast Wednesday night on the Montgomery Channel's Cable News 21 program, Schweinhaut was asked what she would say to so-called one-issue voters in District 17, an area that polls show to be strongly in favor of abortion rights.

"Suppose you had a baboon -- and I'm not calling my opponent a baboon, just understand that -- running," Schweinhaut said. "And the baboon indicated by gestures and talk that they agreed with you on this one issue, and you elected that animal to the legislature.

"What happens then? When the serious questions come up. The questions of our environment, the questions of taxes, serious questions come up, but that person is only good on one issue. How well are you then served?"

Yesterday, Schweinhaut said she regretted that she "spoke without thinking."

"I very specifically said in no way am I calling my opponent that," said Schweinhaut, who is seeking an eighth term in the Maryland Senate. "I'm Irish. That's the kind of thing Irish people do. I speak whatever comes to my mind. It's not a personal thing."

Sher, one of the House of Delegates' leaders of the abortion-rights movement, said yesterday of the "baboon" remarks: "I'm just utterly amazed that anyone could be that vicious. Even a trained seal would have been nicer."