IT STILL may not have occurred to that many voters in Maryland that among their election decisions next Tuesday is whether to return William Donald Schaefer to the governorship. The reason hardly anyone has focused on this is that he is generally presumed to be the biggest shoo-in on the ballot. And he earned it hands down, or in his case, hands-on. The ticket of Gov. Schaefer and Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg is opposed in the Democratic primary, though, and voters should make sure that the weak ticket of challengers -- Frederick M. Griisser Jr., leader of the unsuccessful campaign to repeal Maryland's handgun law, and running mate Sanford M. Abrams -- isn't given an opening to spoil anything. Besides, there will be more to come in the race for governor: the Republicans, too, have a primary contest next Tuesday and will send a winner into the Nov. 6 election round.

Though neither Republican ticket can match the strengths of the Schaefer-Steinberg ticket, the next round would be made livelier, we believe, by a victory for an unusual political slate: William S. Shepard, who is running for governor, and Lois B. Shepard, who was selected by her husband to run for lieutenant governor. They are opposed by political perennial and veteran loser Ross Z. Pierpont for governor and Lloyd W. Reynolds for lieutenant governor. Mr. Shepard is an engaging candidate with a long record of federal government service and a knowledge of the issue, and Mrs. Shepard, an educator and organizer of various national and international programs, brings solid administrative skills to this unique team.

Still, it is Gov. Schaefer who has continued to embrace and symbolize his beloved state just as he did his city when he rose to national attention as mayor of Baltimore. His quirky behavior and off-beat, populist/personal style can send staffers and legislators up walls, but his sense of taxpayers' moods, poor people's needs and lawmakers' political limits is keen and delivers results. Even his once-distant relationship to the Washington region in general and Montgomery County in particular has evolved into a solid working relationship in which the more able local and state government elected by Montgomery, Prince George's, Howard and Anne Arundel counties can find an ear and maybe even some budget sympathy.

Another well-known figure in Maryland is the ever-popular fixture of Free State politics, Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, who first took over this office in 1959 after service in the state senate and, from 1939 to 1942, in the house of delegates. There are two Republicans competing for the GOP nomination. Larry M. Epstein has the best qualifications for the job and for what will be one huge challenge in the next round. Mr. Goldstein's experience in the job as well as in the political arena can't be topped.