Paul H. Rappaport, the Howard County Republican who waged unsuccessful bids to become lieutenant governor in 1994 and attorney general in 1998, formally declared his bid yesterday for the U.S. Senate seat held by Paul S. Sarbanes.

The former Howard County police chief and longtime state trooper made his announcement in a pair of public appearances, first at a hotel in Pikesville and then outside City Hall in Gaithersburg.

He said he would fight for crime victims' rights and address spousal and child abuse. He wants health care to be "available, accessible and affordable to all," but not at the expense of owners of small businesses. And he wants a stronger military and a viable Social Security system for future generations. He said he would expand upon those themes later.

"Make no mistake, I am fully committed in my bid for the U.S. Senate," he said yesterday, from the stage of a brick pavilion outside Gaithersburg's City Hall. "I am running to give Maryland a visible U.S. senator who will be responsive to the citizens of our great state."

Rappaport, 65, would have to win the March 7 Republican primary before he can take on Sarbanes, a Democrat who has held the seat for 24 years. He enters a field that already has one primary candidate, former House of Delegates member Robin Ficker, of Montgomery County, and several other potential candidates.

Ficker, 56, filed to run nearly a year ago, and he has been campaigning for the office even longer. But Rappaport is counting on the name recognition he garnered from past statewide campaigns, as well as his work in law enforcement throughout Maryland to help him, he said.

About a dozen supporters and longtime friends stood in the chilly, damp air to show their loyalty for Rappaport. Among the group were former Howard County executive Charles I. Ecker, Thomas M. O'Malley, who tried unsuccessfully last year to become Montgomery County state's attorney, and state Del. David G. Boschert (R-Anne Arundel).

"This gives the people of Maryland some hope for a two-party system," Boschert said of Rappaport's candidacy.

Rappaport says that he's not concentrating on Sarbanes just yet, that he'll focus on the primary first. But with an uncertain field of primary opponents, Rappaport clearly sees Sarbanes as his main target.

Sarbanes spokesman Jesse Jacobs declined to comment on Rappaport's candidacy. "Our official position is we do not comment on candidates in a Republican primary," Jacobs said.

Rappaport brought numbers from a recent Mason-Dixon poll of 620 voters to yesterday's announcement, delighting in results that showed Rappaport's support at 30 percent, compared with 57 percent for Sarbanes. Rappaport said he thought his numbers against Sarbanes, who has won all of his senatorial reelection bids with relative ease, would be much lower this early in the race. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The results are "fantastic," Rappaport said in an interview after the announcement. "I would expect to reach the 30 percent level somewhere around June or July. Obviously, it means he has a lot of negatives. Also, hopefully, it means that my name is out there."

CAPTION: Paul H. Rappaport announces his Senate candidacy at brick pavilion outside City Hall in Gaithersburg. He first must survive the Republican primary in March.