Bob Pascal is running for governor of Maryland--finally.

This morning, five years after his name was first bandied about among state Republicans as a candidate for the state house, Pascal, the Anne Arundel county executive, will announce he is in the race.

He almost ran in 1978, and probably could have had the Republican nomination for the asking that year, when the Democrats looked extremely vulnerable. But instead of lunging forward as his proclaimed role-model, John Wayne, might have done, Robert Anthony Pascal waffled. I'm out, I might be in, I'd like to be in, I'm out again. It was the classic political tease. And it left the former all-America football player with a decidedly unmacho image of indecisiveness.

In fact, as Pascal readies his challenge to incumbent Harry Hughes, the governor's people, accustomed to hearing about their man's inability to make up his mind, are smiling sweetly and saying quietly, "and you think Harry's indecisive?"

Pascal, 47, laughs when the indecisiveness question is raised, as he knows it will be during the campaign. He also has a ready-made answer: "If the only thing they can say bad about you is that you're indecisive, then you must be doing pretty well. I wasn't indecisive in '78. I decided not to run for personal reasons, then the state Republicans came to me and asked me to reconsider. So I did. And then I decided I still didn't want to run."

Pascal definitely wants to run now. He is announcing today at the urging of many Republicans who wish he had announced last fall, instead of just 264 days before the election. "It's important for him to announce as early as possible," said state party chairman Allan S. Levey, the memory of 1978 still bright. "This way people will know for certain that Bob Pascal wants to be the governor of Maryland."

Pascal is prohibited from running for a third term as executive under county law and, after giving it a little thought, he decided against a Senate race. So he will try to make a race in which, as he puts it, "I'm going to have to come from way back in the stretch."

In a state where a Republican must get Democratic votes in November, it is vital to get Democratic money long before the stretch, and Pascal is not a familiar figure in many parts of the state. He is well known only in his home county of Anne Arundel and in Baltimore, where he has aligned himself as closely to Mayor William Donald Schaefer as a Republican can get away with.

"Bob Pascal is an excellent person-to-person campaigner," said one state Republican official. "But if he started today and shook hands six days a week, 12 hours a day for the rest of the campaign, he couldn't meet enough people to get elected."

"Probably true," Pascal acknowledged. "If the election were held today, I don't think I'd get very much of the vote. But I think there are a lot of people out there who aren't satisfied with the incumbent. I intend to offer people a choice between myself and Harry Hughes. I think I can put together the type of constituency state-wide that I've put together in this county.

"I think I can appeal to the typical Democratic voter in this state. I'm not a typical Republican."

Pascal is fond of pointing out his unusual status. "I grew up over a bakery in Belleville, New Jersey, in an apartment where 14 people came to dinner some nights." He will spend much of the campaign describing himself as the "grass-roots" candidate.

"I come from a blue-collar background, I understand the working people of this state," Pascal said. "My record in working with the elderly, especially the elderly poor in this county speaks for itself. There's no question that I have to communicate my record to a lot of people who don't know me. . . . I'm going to be straightforward with people. I'm going to tell people that I believe in 1-2-3-4 and 5. If they don't agree, then they should vote for the other fella."

That sort of approach seems to fit Pascal. He is stocky and broad-shouldered, his short brown hair just beginning to turn gray at the temples. His political rhetoric is decidedly unwordy; his answers are generally brief. His style is that of John Wayne, whose picture hangs prominently on the wall of his office.

He was an all-America halfback at Duke. There, he met his future wife Nancy, who was the homecoming queen. He played professional football in Canada, then went to work for his father-in-law's Florida-based gasoline products company. He now owns its former Maryland branch, United Propane Inc., which grosses about $2 million annually. He got into politics in 1966, on a dare.

"Some of the Democrats in this area had told me there was no way to get elected to the constitutional convention that year without their support," Pascal said, his voice laced with pride. "Well, that really bugged me, I couldn't get it out of my mind. I went home to my wife and said, 'I just don't believe that, I'm going to try it.'"

Young Pascal, his campaign organized and run by other parents in the Little League in which he coached, won the race. The political bug had bitten, and four years later Pascal ran for the state Senate.

He switched parties that year, abandoning the Democratic background of his youth for the Republicans, largely because he knew he was unpopular with what he called "the banana republic Democratic machine" in the county. Running as a Republican he won easily. Four years later he ran for county executive and won, also easily. In 1976, he managed Gerald Ford's presidential campaign in Maryland. That, along with his winning record, made him the darling of the state party. His decision not to run for governor in 1978, a year in which the Democrats were divided over the expulsion of Marvin Mandel from office, was a major disappointment to the party.

But Pascal says that is all behind him now and that he will prove the nay-sayers wrong by campaigning nonstop beginning today. "We're going to raise a million bucks for this campaign," he said. "I'm going to give it the best shot I've got for eight months and then live with the result."

According to a poll done for Hughes last month, the result, if the election were held now, would be a rout. In a Hughes-Pascal race, according to the poll, Hughes would get 61 percent of the vote, Pascal 15. Pascal's major problem: name recognition.

"We know that's a serious problem," said Levey. "That's another reason why I'm glad he's moved his announcement date up from the spring. He is unknown outside of Anne Arundel and Baltimore. What we have to do in the next 90 days is get him around to meet people and get him recognized."

They also must get him before those Democrats, including many Baltimore businessmen, who are reportedly unhappy with Hughes and willing to back a Republican. Pascal's first fundraiser, a $100-a-plate dinner in December, attracted a number of Democrats and raised $150,000. That evening, Pascal says, convinced him once and for all that he should run and that he could win.

Some of the Democrats whom Pascal will woo are those who were disenfranchised when Mandel fell from power. "Pascal has to walk a thin line here," one Democratic analyst said. "He needs that money, but if Harry even gets a whiff of a Mandel connection he's going to jump on it and make Pascal the 'Mandel Candidate.' "

Pascal's campaign will focus around three issues: crime, the aging and accessibility. As county executive, aid for the elderly has been one of Pascal's main thrusts. He will kick his campaign off with a speech at the Pascal Senior Citizens Center in Glen Burnie.

Crime, specifically drug abuse among teen-agers and juvenile delinquency, are also Pascal topics. He points frequently to the drop in the county's juvenile delinquency rate during his tenure. And there is the prison issue. During the 1981 legislative session Pascal spent a good deal of time in Annapolis criticizing Hughes because of troubles in the state corrections system. The imminent debate over Hughes' proposed new prison in Hagerstown undoubtedly will be watched closely by Pascal.

Finally, there is accessibility. Pascal loves to talk about "being out among the folks." He points to his listed telephone number and his twice-monthly open sessions where any citizen can see him without an appointment.

"One of the things we're going to try to illuminate right away is how utterly different Pascal is from Hughes," said Richard H. Wade, the campaign's publicity director. "We want to accentuate the contrasts right from the start."

What Pascal does not want to accentuate is any connection with Ronald Reagan. He did not campaign for the president until late in the 1980 campaign and, given Reagan's relatively low popularity in Maryland (it was one of five states that Jimmy Carter won), Pascal will not grab for Reagan's coattails. If he grabs any coattails they will be Mayor Schaefer's. If Schaefer stays out of the race as expected and, more important, if his second-line people quietly work for Pascal, the Republican could make a dent in Baltimore City where Democrats outnumber Republicans nine to one.

"Let's face it," Pascal said, "if people view me strictly as a Republican, I lose."

Pascal's media blitz will not start until late spring. The next few months will be spent doing fundraisers, polling, and meeting with media people around the state. And Pascal, now as a candidate, will watch the legislature very closely from his office down the street from the State House, hoping Hughes will run into difficulties he can pounce on.

There is one other long shot way Pascal may receive help: if L. Bruce Laingen, the former ranking hostage, gets into the U.S. Senate race and emerges as the Republican nominee. "He would wrap himself in Laingen's flag in a second," said a Pascal friend.

Pascal likes to describe himself as a WICR--White Italian Catholic Republican--accentuating his broad appeal: city born, blue-collar background, ex-jock, married to a born-again Christian, proven as a businessman, suburban legislator and executive. "He's comfortable with all kinds of people and we're going to make sure people find that out quickly," Wade said. "He's going to be all over, in ethnic neighborhoods, black neighborhoods and in the Washington suburbs. We know how important the Washington area will be and that will be reflected by the amount of time he spends there."

It also may be reflected by Pascal's choice of a running mate. Early speculation centered on Baltimore State's Attorney Sandy O'Connor, but Pascal now says O'Connor is going to run for reelection. Many Republicans would like him to choose someone from the Washington area, perhaps Del. Luiz Simmons of Montgomery County, perhaps State Sen. Howard Denis, perhaps Levey.

"I swear I haven't offered it to anyone yet," Pascal said. "I only want to offer it once, not 15 times like some people had to."

The last is a reference to Hughes, who has suffered considerable embarrassment because of his much-publicized split with Lt. Gov. Sam Bogley, a man who became his running mate four years ago three days before the filing date when Hughes could find no one else to run with him.

"Don't forget Harry Hughes' name recognition was much less at this time in 1978 than mine is now," Pascal said. "I know I'm running against an incumbent and I know about the odds of a Republican winning in this state. I probably would have had better odds in '78."

Pascal smiled for a second at that thought. "But you know, I'm sure I want to be in this race now. I wasn't sure then. I guess it's the old jock in me."