In the hierarchy of "Super Tuesday," Maryland seemed destined to become the spouse state.

Tipper Gore prowled the State House in search of voters and reporters. Jeanne Simon raised money at a breakfast in Montgomery County. Elizabeth Hanford Dole courted voters in Baltimore. And as Barbara Bush this week heads to Lanham for the Prince George's County Lincoln Day dinner, less than 20 miles from her Washington home, the Bush staff is putting out a press release saying: "I know I will enjoy my brief visit to your beautiful state."

Too northern to fit into candidates' Dixie strategies and too small to demand attention on its own, Maryland is having a hard time finding a role in Super Tuesday.

Now that Super Tuesday is a week away, the candidates themselves are finally coming to call.

Excitement, however, is missing.

"I think it's going exactly how I thought it would go: terribly," said Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), who opposed the decision to move Maryland's primary from May to March 8. "I really don't think Marylanders have focused on the presidency of the United States."

Some in the other party feel the same way: "I think the Super Tuesday thing is a disaster in terms of the electorate," said House Republican leader Ellen Sauerbrey of Baltimore County, a supporter of Rep. Jack Kemp of New York. "Maryland has become less of a factor."

Maryland officials like to call their diverse state "America in miniature." And party leaders say that the political landscape in the state mirrors the situation nationally:

On the Democratic side, Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, Jesse L. Jackson and Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt appear to have the most support in the state, but many of Maryland's 1.4 million Democratic voters are undecided or leaning toward a candidate. The GOP race appears to be a close contest between Vice President Bush and Sen. Robert J. Dole of Kansas. But because the Republican vote is so small -- there are 534,000 registered Republicans in the state -- neither candidate is targeting the state.

Supporters of Maryland's inclusion in the 20 mostly southern states that hold primaries or caucuses on March 8 say that the small state got no more attention when its primary was held in the spring.

But politicians and politicial professionals in the two parties agree that several factors are combining to curb voter interest in the presidential primaries and are almost ensuring a low voter turnout.

Most politicians first mention the change of date. Marylanders are accustomed to going to the primary polls in May, and campaign workers usually do not gear up until the spring. "March is just not a good time for Marylanders to vote" because of uncertain weather, Cardin said.

"You don't have lots and lots of bull roasts in February, or political picnics," added Wendy Sherman, a former campaign manager and administrative assistant for Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) who now is director of Dukakis' Washington office.

Sen. Albert Wynn (D-Prince George's), a leader in the Jackson campaign, said cold weather has kept Jackson workers from developing the kind of voter registration drives that helped Jackson win two of the state's eight congressional districts in 1984. "When it's cold, it's hard to get people to knock on doors," he said.

State legislators, many of whom are on the ballot as convention delegate candidates, and their aides, traditional foot soldiers in political campaigns, are in the middle of the 90-day legislative session, which ends in mid-April. "You literally have hundreds of politically active people tied down in Annapolis," said one Democratic strategist.

Organized labor, a political force in the state, is not having the impact that it had in the 1984 primary, when the unions were solidly behind Democratic presidential candidate Walter F. Mondale.

This time, union members are "all over the ballpark," said Ed Lamon of the Maryland AFL-CIO.

Democratic leaders are split, too. Gov. William Donald Schaefer, the state's most popular politician, abandoned his idea of a favorite son candidacy and gave up on trying to keep party leaders uncommitted. He has decided not to endorse a candidate before the primary, although all except Jackson have come courting.

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes and state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. are supporting Dukakis, and although Mikulski is officially staying neutral, she accompanied Dukakis on a trip to Baltimore Sunday. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) and House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell (D-Kent) have endorsed Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.).

The congressional districts are equally split, with Rep. Tom McMillen of the Anne Arundel-based 4th District supporting Gore, Baltimore's Rep. Kweisi Mfume heading the Jackson campaign and Cardin backing Gephardt. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer favors Gephardt, too, but Hoyer is withholding an official endorsement because he does not want to offend his constituents in Prince George's County, who supported Jackson in 1984 and are likely to do the same this year.

In the most recent public poll in the Baltimore Sun, taken after the Iowa caucuses but before the New Hampshire primary, Dukakis, Jackson and Gephardt were in a virtual dead heat for first place, each with about 20 percent of the vote.

On the Republican side, Bush and Dole were virtually tied for the lead, while Kemp and Pat Robertson were far behind.

Most Democrats agree that Dukakis has the best-financed and most organized campaign in the state. Early on, he had paid staff members in Maryland, and he has secured the support of county executives in Montgomery, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties. Dukakis alone began airing television commercials in the Baltimore area last week, and he plans to cover all of Maryland by Super Tuesday, Sherman said.

Dukakis is thought to be especially strong in the Montgomery County and Baltimore areas.

Jackson supporters are hoping to improve on their 1984 success and secure a first-place finish for their candidate. Jackson is expected to carry easily the congressional districts in Prince George's County and Baltimore that he won in 1984, and he joins Dukakis and Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois as the only Democrats to field full slates of delegates in all eight congressional districts.

Jackson has the strongest core of support of all the candidates, his backers say, and he will be helped by a split vote.

Gephardt is hoping that the momentum he received in Iowa and since will compensate for the lack of a campaign in Maryland. His first paid staff workers arrived in the state only last week.

Simon put together the nucleus of a good campaign in Maryland, but even his supporters say he has been hurt by his failure to win in the early caucuses and primaries. Some popular elected officials are on his slate, especially in Montgomery, and his supporters hope that Simon will benefit from a low turnout and the fact that other candidates have not targeted the state.

Gary Hart will be on the ballot, although he has no campaign in the state, and supporters of political extremist Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. were successful in a petition drive to put his name on the ballot.

On the Republican side, most believe that it will be a two-man race between Dole and Bush. Bush has most of the establishment of the state's small Republican Party, with Rep. Helen Delich Bentley and former representative Marjorie S. Holt heading his campaign. He had a paid staff early in Maryland, and he has many state legislators on his delegate slates.

Dole coordinator Michael Burns claims to have the support of many of the party's grass roots workers. It is unclear if either candidate will campaign in the state before the vote. "The turnout is an issue," said Burns. "Nobody is quite sure what it's going to be."

Kemp supporter Sauerbrey said it is getting harder to convince supporters that "lightning is going to strike" for her candidate. And Robertson, who has full slates in each district, is a question mark. Bush and Dole supporters say that they do not rule out Robertson, although party officials say that the fundamentalist arm of the state party is not united behind Robertson.