Candidates across Maryland scoured grocery stores, worked the phones, nailed down last-minute yard signs and jousted with callers on radio talk shows yesterday in hopes of securing their party nominations in today's statewide primary elections.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. for the state's 1.33 million registered Democrats and 606,000 Republicans to choose candidates for offices from governor and Congress down to local court clerks. Included are party primaries for county executive seats in six jurisdictions, including Montgomery, Prince George's, Howard and Anne Arundel counties, all 47 seats in the state Senate, and the 141 spots in the House of Delegates.

Election officials, however, are expecting a turnout of about 35 percent in the state's 23 counties and Baltimore, largely because it is not a presidential election year and there are no hotly contested statewide offices.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer (D), who took most of the day off yesterday, nonetheless offered some of his clearest views to date on abortion. Schaefer, who remained silent after a bitter abortion battle erupted during last winter's legislation session, said yesterday that he thinks abortion is "a personal thing." He said he would not favor a blanket prohibition on the procedure, particularly in cases of rape or incest.

Schaefer is heavily favored in his primary race against Anne Arundel County real estate agent and gun control opponent Fred Griisser.

On the GOP side, there were "lots of butterflies," according to Lois Shepard, campaigning for lieutenant governor on a ticket with her husband, William S. Shepard, who is hoping to challenge Schaefer in November. The Shepards, of Potomac, compete today for the Republican gubernatorial nomination with retired Baltimore surgeon Ross Z. Pierpont, who has based his campaign on criticism of their decision to run together.

In one of the state's more closely watched elections, Democratic state Del. Barbara O. Kreamer spent the day campaigning at grocery stores in her bid to upset Rep. Roy P. Dyson, who also planned a full day courting voters, beginning with a 7 a.m. stop at the Aberdeen Proving Ground. Meanwhile, the eight Republicans vying to run for the 1st District seat in November continued their frantic efforts to pull away from the pack, placing yard signs around their home counties, and wooing voters with phone calls and a barrage of mail.

Locally, the top race is between incumbent Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer and Neal Potter, a veteran County Council member who has made a stronger-than-expected challenge for the seat.

The contest is seen as a referendum on growth in the county, and each candidate has tried to portray himself as more competent at managing development.

Potter, 75, concedes that the 18-hour days of campaigning are beginning to wear on him, but he continued the pace yesterday, greeting 5:30 a.m. commuters at the Shady Grove Metro station.

Volunteers for both the Kramer and Potter camps were busy yesterday making last-minute plans to deploy precinct workers in an effort to boost voter turnout. There are 195,523 registered Democrats and 119,168 Republicans in the county; 30 to 35 percent of voters typically participate in gubernatorial primaries, said county election supervisor Douglas Jernigan.

Voters in Anne Arundel County, one of the few jurisdictions in Maryland where Republicans have fared well in local elections, will be picking nominees to run for the office being vacated by outgoing County Executive James Lighthizer, a Democrat. There are four Democrats in the race: council members Theodore J. Sophocleus and Michael F. Gilligan, former delegate Patricia Aiken, and former Annapolis mayor Dennis Callahan. On the Republican side, former delegate Robert Neall faces William J. Steiner, who was recently convicted of receiving stolen property.

In Prince George's County, Parris N. Glendening's strongest challenge in his bid for a third term as county executive comes from veteran council member Floyd E. Wilson Jr. in the Democratic primary. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer is facing a Democratic primary battle in his bid to retain his 5th District seat from Abdul Alim Muhammad, the national spokesman for the Nation of Islam.