All James C. Rosapepe wanted to do, he insists, was to quietly raise some money in his bid for a second term as a delegate to the Maryland General Assembly from Prince George's County's 21st district.

But his letter describing challenger Jo Anne P. Welsh, 43, as a well-funded "ex-Junior League" lobbyist has transformed what might otherwise have been a lackluster Democratic primary campaign into a down-and-dirty street contest.

For one thing, it has turned Welsh, a fifth-generation Prince Georgian from College Heights Estates, from a reluctant into a determined candidate. In the House of Delegates race, she is running against three incumbents for one of three seats.

Welsh said all she wants to do is discuss the issues, especially abortion rights, which she actively supports. "I'm finding it's the number one question," said Welsh, making her first bid for elected government office. "I've always been pro-choice, even before it was fashionable."

But her tenure as chairperson of the Maryland Commission for Women, which she quit to run for office, has handed her opponents another issue. They have hinted at controversies surrounding her term in office.

Meanwhile, the two other incumbents, longtime delegates Pauline H. Menes, 66, of College Park, and Timothy F. Maloney, of Beltsville, seem securely entrenched. Menes has been in the House of Delegates since 1967. Maloney, 34, has been a delegate for 11 years and chairs two key appropriations subcommittees.

And Sen. Arthur Dorman, seeking his seventh term, hasn't had primary opposition since 1982. In the general election, the 63-year-old Beltsville Democrat will face Republican Abdullah Salim, a first-time candidate and a lawyer who also lives in Beltsville.

Dorman, an optometrist, and the other incumbents are running as a slate in a district that comprises much of the county's northwestern quadrant, from the District of Columbia line almost to Laurel. Its boundaries encompass some drug-infested low-income neighborhoods but most of it is solidly middle-class.

Registration in the district of 90,000 people is more than 3 to 1 Democratic.

There is no Republican primary for either chamber of the Maryland General Assembly in District 21. The three Republicans running for delegate -- Debra DiCamillo, Margaret John and Charles D. Randall -- will advance to the November election.

In a random telephone poll of 305 registered Democrats taken for the incumbents in February by a professional polling firm, the environment, drugs and taxes topped the list of voter concerns.

Thus, the slate literature asserts, "When they win, the polluters lose" and gives legislation limiting "tree cutting by developers" as the top accomplishment of the self-styled "Green Team," which has won the endorsement of state environmental groups.

Abortion "wasn't in the top 10" issues, according to Maloney. He said only a very small percentage of voters said a single issue would decide their vote.

Nonetheless, challenger Welsh has made her abortion-rights stance a key theme of her campaign literature and even emblazoned it on T-shirts. As a women's rights lobbyist, Welsh fought a losing battle to expand access of low-income women to Medicaid-funded abortion. Endorsed by the state chapter of the National Abortion Rights Action League, she has accused Rosapepe, 39, of waffling on the issue.

Rosapepe, a financial consultant who lives in College Park, said he voted for one amendment that would extend Medicaid coverage on a limited basis and also voted against another amendment that would have provided broader coverage.

"I'm opposed to abortion," he said, "but I have been supportive of Medicaid funding for abortion."

Rosapepe's plea for campaign funds is based on his belief that he is most vulnerable to what he described in his fund-raising letter as "a well-funded challenge from a very ambitious candidate" with "considerable family money," in part through her husband, homebuilder Thomas H. Welsh 3d.

He also referred to her accurately as an "ex-Junior League lobbyist." But Welsh has also lobbied for other groups and worked as an aide on Capitol Hill.

"They're trying to portray me as some dilettante," she said. "I'm not receiving thousands from political action committees. My contributions come from neighbors and friends. I've set a limit of $25,000."

Maloney said the slate will spend "at least" $40,000 in the campaign.

Welsh's opponents have privately mentioned but publicly tiptoed around her controversial tenure on the state women's commission, a 24-member advisory panel appointed by the governor. "It's very awkward for a competitor, at least for me, to share with you anything concerning Jo Anne that is not positive," said Menes. "It's unpleasant enough to hear them."

In what Welsh characterizes as an internal political dispute, commission members accused her of "implied sexism and racism and lack of leadership" and asked Gov. William Donald Schaefer to fire her.

The governor declined to do so, but Welsh then resigned to run. "What I did wrong {as commission chairperson} was I didn't clean house," she said.

Said Menes, "She's a bright, energetic young woman. There may be things in the future she may be able to do that at the moment are not likely. If there's any way I can help her once the campaign is over, I will."