Charles W. Sherren Jr., the Republican candidate for Prince George's County executive, vividly remembers the last time he and incumbent Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, shared the same platform.

It was at a candidates debate six days before the Sept. 11 primary, in which Sherren ran unopposed and Glendening handily defeated three challengers. "Welcome to the last debate of the 1990 election," Sherren recalls Glendening's saying.

Shot back Sherren: "Gee, Parris, I didn't know you felt so pessimistic about the outcome of the primary."

To be a Republican in overwhelmingly Democratic Prince George's County takes a sense of humor.

Sherren's got one -- but not much else -- in his long-shot bid to unseat the two-term incumbent. His campaign budget of $8,000 compares with $125,000 that Glendening is spending on the race, including $50,000 for radio ads.

Said Richmond Davis, the ever-hopeful chairman of the Prince George's Republican Central Committee, "I think he's a sleeper. He has not unfortunately had the financing we hoped he would obtain, but he is a very strong and serious candidate. He's an individual with a lot of good ideas."

Sherren lives in Mitchellville with his wife and three children and is a vice president and director of property management of B.F. Saul Co., responsible for 33 projects in seven states. His only previous campaign for elective office was for the House of Delegates in 1986. He came in last in that six-way race for three seats.

"I learned what to do, what not to do and how to get blown out of the water," said Sherren, 37.

Two Republicans and two Democrats have been county executive since the current form of county government was adopted in 1970.

"I certainly would like to be the tie-breaker," Sherren said.

But with registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans by more than 3 to 1, the odds are against him. Sherren is up against a seasoned politician in Glendening, a political science teacher who served eight years on the County Council before winning the executive's seat in 1982.

In office, Glendening has managed to dominate the council and set the local public agenda in most matters. Only in his last term has he faced sharp criticism, primarily for his handling of police-community relations after the 1989 death of Gregory Habib, a Ghanaian native who died in a struggle with four white police officers, and for his effort to keep School Superintendent John A. Murphy with a $150,000-a-year, 10-year employment package.

Sherren has not, however, dwelled on those issues.

His theme is that things aren't as good as advertised. Sherren notes that the county is second only to the District in the number of homicides in the Washington area. He says the highly touted magnet school program has come at the expense of a majority of students and that the county work force has grown faster than inflation. He says the Prince George's "renaissance" is largely an illusion, as commercial vacancy rates approach 25 percent.

Glendening takes strong issue with Sherren's characterization of the county. He accuses Sherren and the local Republican Party of failing to "articulate a vision of where we are going."

By contrast, Glendening says he has created a positive image for a county long regarded as the region's poor stepchild. He said his administration has reversed perceptions of public education "sliding downhill," increased the size of the police force, and expanded services to seniors and other groups.

County government has grown, he said, "but I would argue there was an immense demand" for services. After a modification of TRIM, a voter-imposed ceiling on property tax collections, money was there, he said. With the economy slumping, however, he faces new financial restraints.

The challenge now, says Glendening, is "how well we manage in times of austerity."

He has already made a start, announcing measures to deal with a projected $49.9 million revenue shortfall this year. At the same time, he seeks to accentuate the positive, frequently citing the county's designation by the National Civic League as an "All America City" and his own selection by City & State magazine as the "most valuable public official" of 1990.

"It is almost a moral responsibility of this office to emphasize the positive aspects of this county," Glendening said. "We try to resolve problems in this office and not go out and announce them."

Kevin and Mary Igoe's apartment in Greenbelt was the setting for the 112th appearance of Sherren's candidacy. One of four candidates to appear at the apartment, Sherren found only about a dozen voters' hands to shake.

Gloria Forehand, a county resident since 1946 and a registered Republican, noted that Glendening "makes a good impression." She said she voted for him before and may do so again.

Before she could do otherwise, she said, "I have to know more about the other candidate."

Nearby, Sherren said, "Methinks she doesn't know who the other candidate is."