ANNAPOLIS, OCT. 26 -- Early this week, Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. plunked down $120,000 for an advertising campaign highlighting his record in protecting children and the environment.

Today, however, it was clear that the last 10 days of his race against Republican Edward L. Blanton Jr. would focus on something else altogether: Curran's remarks welcoming a public debate over decriminalizing drugs as a way to end related violence.

Curran, a Democrat seeking a second term, came under withering criticism from Blanton again today after making what even aides said was a bad misstep late in a campaign that he has led by more than 35 percentage points in published polls. Blanton, a Baltimore tax lawyer, said the attorney general's statements this week indicate he is "giving up" in the war on drugs.

Blanton announced plans for a joint appearance in Montgomery County next week with Reggie Walton, deputy drug policy director for President Bush. He also was preparing a blitz of radio spots seeking to capitalize on Curran's statements.

Meanwhile, Curran sought today to contain the furor that raged on radio talk shows around the state. While saying he wouldn't oppose a public discussion of decriminalizing drugs, Curran said he would take a strong stand in such a debate.

" . . . I know what my position is. I'm opposed to drugs. I do oppose decrimininalization," Curran said.

Blanton referred today to Curran's statements as a gift to his campaign, but it was unclear what effect they might have on the Nov. 6 election. Brad Coker, president of Mason Dixon Research Inc., a Maryland-based polling firm, noted that drugs and crime are high on the list of voter concerns.

Curran remains far better off financially than his challenger. In a report filed with the state today, Curran said he had raised $351,769 and still had $38,000 left to spend.

Blanton reported raising $72,940 and having $40,000 left in the bank. An aide said the campaign got $10,000 in contributions today and planned to spend that much on newly produced radio commercials.