Lady Luck abandoned him in past contests. But 78-year-old Sid Altman is hoping she'll be back by his side in 2000 when the retired schoolteacher challenges veteran Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) in the March primary.

Altman, who has never held political office, said he is realistic about his chances of beating the four-term senator from Baltimore.

"Between you, me and the lamppost, I don't even entertain the possibility of beating Sarbanes," Altman confided in an interview recently. "But I think he has to be challenged."

Altman is no stranger to the long-shot election bid. He has twice sought the seat held by seven-term Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.), who represents Montgomery County. Altman ran in 1990 as an independent and in 1992 as a Democrat. He came in third out of eight challengers in the 1992 primary.

Altman also lost a bid for the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee in 1998, coming in eighth place. But he was pleased. He did get 17,000 votes.

Altman said he decided to run for Senate because he wanted to reach more people. Since announcing his candidacy in November, the World War II veteran and Long Island native has been campaigning mostly on the College Park campus of the University of Maryland.

"It's a way for me to reach students from all over the state," he said. "If I had attempted to run for Morella's seat again, my activities would be concentrated in Montgomery County. This way I get much more exposure."

Altman lives off his teacher's pension in an apartment in Gaithersburg. His longtime campaign manager, John Brumm, is deceased. Altman isn't sure he'll replace him for the 2000 run.

"I'm on a shoestring budget," he said. "My campaign is my flier."

His two key issues are military spending and education.

"Essentially, my point is that the Democratic Party has missed the boat in supporting excessive military spending," Altman said. "I think the Democratic Party needs some shaking up."

As for Sarbanes, Altman said he doesn't have any "particular animosity" toward him.

"He typifies the Democrats in Congress," Altman said, and that's enough.