Neither escalating state budget deficits, nor a slumping economy, nor a well-trumpeted mood of anti-incumbency apparently can stay Gov. William Donald Schaefer from his appointment with a huge lead over his GOP challenger William S. Shepard, the results of a Sun Poll show.
In his bid for a second term as governor of Maryland, Mr Schaefer now holds an advantage of almost 4-to-1 over Mr. Shepard, a retired Foreign Service officer from Montgomery County.
Informed of the poll results, Mr. Shepard remarked, "Well, it look like we have a lot of work to do."
Given the margin, he said, he assumes Mr. Schaefer will no accept the invitation for a debate offered anew last week by WMAR-TV in Baltimore.
Not likely, said Jim Smith, Mr. Schaefer's campaign manager The governor still believes the best idea is to campaign -- not to debate, Mr. Smith said.
The strength of his candidate in the poll conducted Oct. 4 to Oct. 11 is not surprising, Mr. Smith said, although he added that he and Mr. Schaefer take a generally skeptical view of poll results.
At the same time, Mr. Smith asserted, Mr. Schaefer's lon experience as a government administrator will put him in good stead with the voters Nov. 6 if the economy is entering a period of trouble.
"People will vote what they think is in the best interest of th state," Mr. Smith predicted.
The Sun Poll also shows:
* Democratic incumbents Louis Goldstein, state comptroller, an Joseph Curran Jr., attorney general, lead their Republican challengers by large margins. Mr. Goldstein leads Larry Epstein 68 percent to 14 percent, while Mr. Curran leads Edward Blanton Jr. 55 percent to 16 percent.
* That the largest segment of Marylanders -- 22 percent of the poll's respondent -- ranks the economy as the most important issue. Taxes, cited by 16 percent, ranked second, followed by education, 13 percent; drugs and crime, 11 percent; the environment, 8 percent; and abortion, 5 percent.
* Marylanders who participated in the survey are about evenly split on the call for a longer school year, proposed by the state's superintendent of schools and endorsed by the state Board of Education.
* Almost two-thirds of the respondents that had an opinion abou the issue believe public agencies in Maryland conduct their business behind closed doors too frequently. About 28 percent said they thought the percentage of meetings held in private is "about right." Another 29 percent had no opinion.
* A shift in favor of abortion rights as compared with a simila survey taken in December. About 55 percent of Marylanders polled last week said they believe abortion should be generally available to those who want it, an increase from about 48 percent in December.
Among Schaefer supporters, about 57 percent said they believ abortion should be generally available to anyone who wants it compared with about 51 percent of Mr. Shepard's backers.
After resisting the pressure to do so, Mr. Schaefer last mont announced his position on abortion: That he did not favor it personally but that he did not believe it should be a matter for politicians to decide. He said that as governor, he would ensure the right of women in Maryland to have abortions. Mr. Shepard has said that he supports abortion only under limited circumstances.
Among Marylanders polled who say they support Governo Schaefer, more than 81 percent agree that government has no business interfering in the abortion decision. Of Mr. Shepard's .. backers, more than 73 percent believe government should not interfere in the issue.
The latest Sun Poll indicates that Mr. Schaefer's approval ratin among Maryland voters continues to run high and has varied only marginally. In September 1988, 73 percent viewed him favorably, 17 percent unfavorably. In December 1989, 75 percent were favorably disposed toward him, 13 percent were unfavorable.
In the poll taken Oct. 4-11, Mr. Schaefer's approval rating wa down slightly to 69 percent, and those who were unfavorably disposed toward him were at 18 percent. The balance in each poll had no opinion.
In a head-to-head matchup with Mr. Shepard, the governo crushes his little-known rival in the Democratic center of the state. In Baltimore, where he served as mayor from 1971 to 1987, he leads by 82 percent to 9 percent.
The attitude of voters in the Baltimore-Washington corridor o rock-solid Schaefer support is characterized by Larry Boxall, 47, a Martin Marietta Corp. employee, who says: "You get the impression he cares for the place, not as a politician but as if the state is part of his family."
Mr. Boxall, one of the poll respondents who agreed to b interviewed for attribution afterward, said he had no concern about Mr. Schaefer's big-ticket spending projects like the new baseball stadium.
"If you're going to be in the big leagues, you have to hav something that's big-league quality," he said. "It will bring a lot of revenue into the city."