Unsuccessful 1998 attorney general candidate Paul H. Rappaport says he wants to challenge U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) next year, attempting to lead a conservative revival of a state Republican Party badly whipped in the fall.

Rappaport, who also ran as Ellen R. Sauerbrey's ticket-mate for lieutenant governor in 1994, enters a Republican field for the Senate depleted by Sarbanes's strong showing in the polls and the Democratic sweep led by Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) in November.

"Substantial people in the Republican Party, business people, they urged me to get into the race," said Rappaport, an Ellicott City lawyer and former Howard County police chief.

Rappaport, 65, declined to detail where he thought Sarbanes might be vulnerable but promised "an active campaign."

"I'm not even looking at him at this point. Right now, I want to be the Republican Party nominee, and that's where we're focusing our attention," he said.

Several lesser-known Republicans are considering entereing the race, and Montgomery County anti-tax activist and former House of Delegates member Robin Ficker has filed with the state Board of Elections. Ficker has been campaigning for months, handing out thousands of pieces of campaign literature at ballgames, county fairs and other public events.

Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.) passed up a bid this year to take on Sarbanes, and Rappaport said Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R-Md.) has given his blessing.

Rappaport said he expects the March 7 primary to cost $300,000 but added, "I'm relying more on the gold than the green, the gold being the grass roots."

Rappaport's 1994 run for lieutenant governor was his first bid for elective office. In November, he trailed the Sauerbrey-led ticket, claiming 36 percent of the vote against Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. (D).

Rappaport said he plans a mid-October announcement.

Republicans From Northeast to Gather in Md.

Republicans are coming to Maryland from all over the Northeast this week.

Beginning tomorrow, the Maryland GOP is hosting the Northeast Republicans Leadership Conference, where hundreds of GOP activists will hear from top party leaders, pundits and pollsters.

The four-day event begins with a reception at the Anne Arundel County home of former U.S. senator William Brock. Rep. J.C. Watts, of Oklahoma, is the featured speaker.

Work begins in earnest Friday at the Annapolis Radisson Hotel with sessions on fund-raising moderated by Republican National Committee Finance Director Margaret Alexander Parker and on polling featuring such GOP pollsters as Frank Luntz and Glen Bolger. There also will be a speech by GOP presidential hopeful Alan Keyes and an address by Rep. John R. Kasich, of Ohio.

Saturday's events include speeches from Rep. Michael N. Castle, of Delaware; Wisconsin Gov. Tommy G. Thompson; Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge; and Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III. There are sessions on media strategies featuring Maryland-based consultant Dick Leggitt and others, as well as a session on party-building featuring Rep. Constance A. Morella, of Maryland, and other GOP activists working in minority outreach programs.

The conference ends on Sunday with speeches from RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson and co-chair Pat Harrison.

Many, but Not All, Speak Out on Connector

It became clear at once that Gov. Parris N. Glendening's announcement last week that he opposes the intercounty connector would do little to end the half-century of debate over the road. And the ferment over the decision, which managed to anger business interests and environmentalists alike, has only increased in recent days.

First, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) vowed to find enough money from state or county sources to buy land once proposed for the connector, which would link Interstate 270 and Interstate 95 north of the Capital Beltway. Then state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer (D), House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany), state Treasurer Richard N. Dixon and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Clinton) said they would fight any attempt to sell the connector right of way.

But one leading politician and aspiring candidate for governor has been silent on the subject: Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D). As Glendening announced his opposition to the $1 billion project, Townsend was holding her own media event to showcase a drop in juvenile crime in Maryland. Her aides say she would have attended the event if not for the fact that her own news conference had been scheduled long before.

Townsend, who is gearing up to run for governor in 2002, has told high-tech executives repeatedly that solving suburban traffic congestion was a top priority. But she has been careful not to appear at odds with Glendening over his decision--a position some partisans for other possible gubernatorial candidates took delight in highlighting, given her supposed mandate to spearhead economic development policy for the administration.

"She acknowledges that this is a very difficult decision, but she supports him," said Alan H. Fleischmann, Townsend's chief of staff. "She is working with the governor to make sure aggressive action is taken immediately to address the most important interchange, highway and road issues in Montgomery and Prince George's County."

Other potential rivals to succeed Glendening have not been so circumspect in their support for the connector. Baltimore County Executive C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger III (D) came out in support of the road, and none of its asphalt would reach his county. Duncan and Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) also have been vocal supporters of the connector.

Staff writer Scott Wilson contributed to this report.