MUCH LIKE THE Senate contest in Maryland, the race for governor has turned out be an easy choice. The incumbent, Gov. Harry Hughes, has been steering the state government with low-key effectiveness. The Republican challenger, Robert A. Pascal, a popular county executive in Anne Arundel County, has campaigned aggressively, but has failed to suggest any sound reasons for changing command.

The fact is, Maryland appears to be in good hands, as states go these days. Gov. Hughes and the legislature have managed a delicate and generally acceptable financial balance between tightened revenues and necessary spending. There is truth, too, in the governor's claim that he restored integrity to Maryland's governor -- a pledge that proved to be the centerpiece of his candidacy four years ago. He has delivered, and Marylanders can be thankful.

Mr. Hughes has been criticized for not keeping a high enough political profile at times when the legislature could have used some executive muscle. But the overall outcome has been good -- and it has been effected without alienating any particular groups of constituents.

Mr. Pascal, in turn, has not come up with a substantive challenge. He has concentrated on small points and vague criticisms of the budget, of economic development and of public safety. Gov. Hughes has rebutted nearly all of these with citations of the record. Here again, the early years of the Hughes administration were not all that smooth, what with financial uncertainties and a corrections policy that ran into administrative troubles before it got a chance to work. But in each instance, Mr. Hughes has managed to adjust his policies sufficiently.

All of this no doubt contributes to the difficulty Mr. Pascal has had mounting a challenge. It also reinforces the case for returning Mr. Hughes for another term as governor.