Veteran Montgomery County Council member Neal Potter narrowly defeated County Executive Sidney Kramer yesterday in a hotly contested Democratic primary that was widely viewed as a referendum on the county's rapid growth.

Final election results showed Potter defeating Kramer 52 percent to 48 percent. Potter will face Republican Albert Ceccone in the November general election.

In statewide elections that drew an unusually low turnout, Democratic Gov. William Donald Schaefer easily won renomination for a second term over little-known challenger Fred Griisser. On the Republican side, retired Foreign Service officer William S. Shepard, who selected his wife Lois as his running mate, defeated retired Baltimore surgeon Ross Z. Pierpont.

Races for Congress also produced big wins for incumbents, including Rep. Steny H. Hoyer and embattled Rep. Roy P. Dyson, who is expected to face stiff opposition in the November general election.

In an outcome sure to be watched nationally, voters handed abortion-rights forces a major victory, ousting four state senators who had helped block legislation in the General Assembly protecting a woman's right to abortion.

Locally, Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening handily defeated his Democratic primary opponents, while Howard County Executive Elizabeth Bobo was unopposed.

Anne Arundel County Democrats, meanwhile, gave County Council member Theodore Sophocleus a handy victory over three rivals. In the Republican primary, former House minority leader Robert R. Neall easily defeated tavern owner William J. Steiner, who recently was convicted of receiving stolen goods. The winners compete in November to replace outgoing County Executive James Lighthizer, a Democrat.

Although all eight members of the state's U.S. House delegation were up for reelection, only Dyson, a hawk on defense issues who was was rocked by the disclosure that he was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, was considered vulnerable.

However, Dyson defeated state Del. Barbara O. Kreamer in the sprawling 1st Congressional District, which includes Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore. On the Republican side, Wayne T. Gilchrest easily beat seven other GOP hopefuls.

Turnout was light as an estimated 30 percent of Maryland's 1.3 million registered Democrats and 606,000 registered Republicans chose nominees for state and local offices.

The Kramer defeat comes as a disappointment to Schaefer, who, his own nomination virtually assured, focused much of his campaign on helping his political allies.

He made campaign stops on behalf of Kramer last week and had given him a campaign contribution with the hope of building closer ties to the Washington suburbs.

It also was dramatic in the context of elections that had sparked little interest on a statewide level, but had given rise to several spirited local races that offered voters the chance to vent their feelings about abortion, development and race relations.

In Prince George's County, which has a growing and increasingly vocal black population, an unprecedented number of independent candidates -- many of them black -- challenged the white-dominated Democratic slate.

Statewide, the campaign did more to fill candidates' election coffers than inspire debate on the issues. Political action committees donated a record $2 million in advance of the primary, with groups representing lawyers, doctors and real estate interests among the most generous. The contributions allowed statewide figures like Schaefer and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) to enhance their influence by funneling money -- more than $60,000 in Schaefer's case -- to their allies.

Overall, the mood contrasted sharply with elections four years ago that brought the state a new governor, a new U.S. senator and four new faces in Congress. About 44 percent of the state's registered voters participated in those primaries.

Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, a 50-year veteran of Maryland politics, also was an easy winner yesterday. Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. was unopposed.

Schaefer spent part of the election season on a trade mission in Taiwan, his third foreign trip of the year, and when he did hit the campaign trail it generally was on behalf of other candidates. He was gambling that he could lead his friends to victory and create a more compliant General Assembly for his second term.

However, the plan partially backfired as candidates supported by Schaefer were defeated in Baltimore County and the Washington suburbs. The defeat of at least four incumbent senators signaled significant change in the usually stable legislature, particularly in the 47-member Senate. No incumbents lost in 1986 state Senate elections, and the last time any were defeated in Prince George's and Montgomery counties was in the 1970s.

A wedge issue in a half-dozen Senate races yesterday was abortion. Since March, when a determined minority of senators staged a filibuster and blocked an abortion-rights bill, advocates have been pointing toward the elections. Political action committees on both sides poured more than $115,000 into General Assembly campaigns, most of them in the Washington and Baltimore suburbs, where abortion-rights challengers were trying to oust antiabortion incumbents.

In Montgomery County, Del. Patricia Sher, running as an advocate for abortion rights, easily defeated veteran Sen. Margaret C. Schweinhaut, the only woman senator who supported the filibuster early this year. Similarly, Del. Mary Boergers trounced antiabortion incumbent Sen. S. Frank Shore.

At Highland Elementary School in Silver Spring, voter Bea Goldman said Schweinhaut's 30-year record in the Senate meant more to her than Schweinhaut's opposition to abortion.

"I care for abortion, I disagree with Schweinhaut on abortion, but you can't vote one issue. She is one hell of a representative," Goldman said.

Naomi Jackson held the opposite view, supporting Sher because, "I like what she said. The abortion question is important to me."

In Prince George's County, challenger Gloria Gary Lawlah, a state delegate, defeated abortion opponent Sen. Frank J. Komenda. His primary challenge by Lawlah also was seen as a test of whether she could help black residents gain power in the 26th District.

Lillian Jenkins, of Temple Hills, cast her usual vote for Komenda, she said yesterday. "He came to our house once and tried to solve a problem we had with water," she said. "And he always comes to our door in the campaign."

Arthur R. Christian, 51, a federal government manager, said he felt most strongly about the abortion issue this year. Yet, he said he voted for Komenda. "He's not a loud person against abortion," Christian said. "He hasn't campaigned and made it a big issue. I can respect that."

In Prince George's County, Sen. Leo E. Green (D) was put on the defensive by civic activist Terezie Bohrer, who supports keeping abortions generally available in Maryland.

At a polling place in Bowie, Debbie Bujac, 39, said abortion entered into her decision to support Bohrer, but she mentioned education as her most prominent concern. "It's time for a change," said Bujac, a school health aide and mother of three girls.

In Anne Arundel County, the Democratic primary featured two County Council members of similarly low-key style, Michael Gilligan and Theodore Sophocleus, former delegate Patricia Aiken and the combative ex-mayor of Annapolis, Dennis Callahan. The Republicans were to pick between Neall and little-known tavern owner William J. Steiner, who recently was convicted of receiving stolen property.

In Anne Arundel County, the issues were somewhat different. After eight years of growth, rising property values and general satisfaction with Lighthizer, the race generated little in the way of controversy. The two abiding themes were voter concern over rising property taxes -- an issue in several suburban counties this year -- and the environment, always a priority in bayside Anne Arundel.

Staff writers Jo-Ann Armao, Retha Hill, Dan Horgan, Beth Kaiman, Eugene Meyer, Fern Shen, Richard Tapscott, Marilyn W. Thompson and Paul W. Valentine contributed to the Maryland political coverage.