Maryland Democrats and Republicans traded charges yesterday over allegations that one party is trying to buy African-American voters while the other is trying to suppress them.

The exchange of accusations came as both campaigns and outside advocacy groups have stepped up their advertising, recorded phone calls, mailings and other efforts to reach voters in the final days of Maryland's tight contest for governor between Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

But Democratic plans for Election Day in Baltimore City and Prince George's County were in limbo last night when Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. - one of the state's top elected Democrats - questioned the party's strategy for using paid workers tomorrow.

The party's leaders had spent much of yesterday morning training hundreds of "nonpartisan" paid Election Day workers in Baltimore, under the careful scrutiny of State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli and Republican attorneys.

After initially planning to pay the workers up to $100 to canvass neighborhoods on behalf of Democratic congressional candidates, party officials said yesterday that such workers would be allowed only to encourage people to vote without advocating for any political parties or candidates - a compromise in the face of state election laws banning the practice of "walking-around money."

Republicans say they still believe the Democratic plans are illegal - a throwback to a practice banned in the 1970s - and are waiting for an opinion from Curran's office today.

Last night, Curran said the opinion will say that state election laws dealing with walking-around money apply to all elections in Maryland, including those for federal office. But nonpartisan paid workers would technically be legal.

"The person could not wear a T-shirt or in any shape or form express favor for a candidate," Curran said. "If that did happen, it would be illegal."

Nevertheless, as a statewide Democratic candidate up for re-election tomorrow, Curran said he thinks the party should reconsider its plans - because paid workers also could be prosecuted if they advocated even slightly for a candidate.

"Something may be very narrowly legal, but that doesn't make it a good idea," he said. "As a candidate it would be my advice that it would not be a good thing to do. It's not that I don't want people to vote, but I would recommend using volunteers. That is the safer thing to do."

'Difference of opinion'

A spokesman for the Democratic Party said last night that its officials had not seen the ruling but intend to go forward with their plans.

"We have a difference of opinon," said spokesman David Paulson. "However, we will strictly adhere to both the finding of the attorney general and the letter of the law. We had always planned to follow the letter of the law."

Earlier in the afternoon, Democratic leaders sought to shift attention away from their party's Election Day plans to what they described as efforts by Republican activists to discourage African-Americans from voting.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley said they are concerned that plans by members of the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police to serve as GOP poll workers may intimidate city voters. O'Malley said he has called both the police commissioner and FOP president to warn against intimidation.

"We will not tolerate in the city of Baltimore any implied, any overt, any intimidation at all at the polling places," O'Malley said.

Cummings also held up a flier that Democratic campaign volunteers said they found posted in some Northwest Baltimore neighborhoods, including on the doors of Pimlico Middle School.

The unsigned flier read: "URGENT NOTICE. Come out to vote on November 6th. Before you come to vote make sure you pay your parking tickets, motor vehicle tickets, overdue rent and most important any warrants."

"Of course all of us know this is an effort to stop people from coming out to vote," said Cummings, who noted the election is Nov. 5. "We don't know exactly who put this out, but you must agree it is an interesting combination. We are very clear we will not allow this to happen."