An article yesterday about campaign fund-raising in Maryland incorrectly reported how many seats in the House of Delegates that Republicans lost in last November's election. It was six. The article also misspelled the name of GOP fund-raiser Richard Hug. (Published 10/12/1999)

It was such a genteel setting for such a show of strength: a pianist playing softly, guests sipping wine and nibbling salmon in the historic splendor of the Georgetown manse once owned by W. Averell and Pamela Harriman.

But there is strength in numbers, and the numbers were these: more than 200 guests paying $1,000 each, which in two-hour's time netted Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. more than $200,000 in contributions. Three years from now, the Prince George's County Democrat will be able to direct those funds to his fellow Democratic senators' campaigns.

Thursday evening's event was the first major fund-raiser of the newest legislative election cycle in Maryland. The high-powered affair, featuring Democratic consultant-cum-celebrity James Carville as speaker, came days after state GOP lawmakers vowed to raise $1 million to elect more Republicans to the General Assembly in 2002.

While every election is more expensive than the previous one, Maryland's legislative races appear ready to make an exponential leap in cost because of the new competition for money.

It's not unusual for Miller, an effective fund-raiser and the longest-serving Maryland Senate president, to start soliciting money early, but what is different this year is the aggressiveness of the Republicans. Their promise to raise $1 million is being answered by Democrats who pledged to raise whatever is necessary to fend off the GOP assault, setting off an arms race for cash.

"It's all about money. I'm sorry to say that's the way it is, but it's come to that point," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Thomas L. Bromwell (D-Baltimore County), who along with the rest of the Senate's Democratic leaders was out in full force at the Harriman mansion. "We've got to do what we continue to do, help certain senators keep their positions."

For years, Maryland's GOP was an afterthought, unable to field qualified candidates in many races, let alone raise money for their campaigns in a state where Democrats ruled. But last year's election changed the dynamic.

Republicans were humiliated at the polls, their gubernatorial candidate lost by 10 points, and they lost five seats in the House of Delegates. But they also raised more money than ever before. Gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey actually raised $200,000 more than Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D).

"We amazed a lot of people, and we will continue to amaze them," said Baltimore business executive Richard Hugg, who was Sauerbrey's chief fund-raiser and who has signed on to help the GOP lawmakers with their campaign.

Whether the Republicans will be able to deliver on their promise to raise $1 million remains to be seen. But they are actively soliciting donations, especially targeting small-business owners with a plea that Republicans are friendlier to business. Simply asking for money is an important step for the party's fledgling ambitions.

"We haven't been competitive in asking for money," said House Minority Leader Robert H. Kittleman (R-Howard). "We haven't gone after donations like the Democrats have."

The GOP aggressiveness has prompted a new resolve in Miller. His first fund-raiser of each four-year cycle has usually been a $250-per-person event at a Baltimore hotel about this time of year, but he pushed that event off until December.

Instead, Thursday's reception at the Harriman mansion, now owned by prominent Maryland and national Democratic fund-raiser James D'Orta, was meant to use the allure of a house steeped in party lore to reach out to Washingtonians, "people I know on Capitol Hill who know me and like my politics," Miller said.

Those people, who also included executives from companies in Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey, are the source of a new vein to be mined. Miller will need new money if he is to raise more than the $654,000 he collected for Maryland Senate Democrats in the last four-year cycle, which itself signaled a dramatic increase in campaign spending.

Using a provision in state law that allows formation of statewide slates of candidates, Miller put nearly every Democratic senator on the list and was able to shower money on their campaigns and bypass the usual restriction on transferring no more than $6,000 from a legislative leader to another candidate. Effectively, every member of the slate had dibs on the money, making it difficult to track who was giving to whom.

Miller said he took advantage of the provision to counter a GOP campaign to unseat at least nine Democratic senators. He commissioned statewide polls, paid for targeted mailings and contributed $315,000 to the campaign funds of other Democratic senators. In the process, he stepped up the tenor of campaigns once comfortable with getting their message out by printing candidate slogans on combs and buttons.

"I said, 'Let's abandon those combs you're handing out, mobilize your resources and get people to the polls,' " he said.

Republicans attempted to change state law to prohibit Miller from amassing money for a statewide slate but got nowhere. They probably will try again next session.

"If that fails," said Senate Minority Leader Martin G. Madden (R-Howard), "then we'll have to reconsider how we'll disperse the money and whether we'll use slates."

CAPTION: Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. has launched a fund-raising effort to match a GOP pledge to raise $1 million.