Organization Democrats in Anne Arundel County endorsed yesterday Rep. Tom McMillen, D-4th, in next month's congressional primary, rejecting the candidacy of their former delegation chairman.

McMillen, running in the newly drawn 1st District that includes much of the county and the Eastern Shore, "has become an integral part of the Democratic party of Anne Arundel County, and we're looking forward to workingwith him in Congress," said state Sen. Michael J. Wagner, D-Ferndale.

John C. Astle, the former delegation chief running against McMillen in the primary, "must be playing for something in the future," Wagner said later.

"He took a poll, and his own poll said he couldn'twin, so maybe he's trying to set himself up for something else. I don't know," Wagner said after a press conference on the State House steps in which county Democratic leaders were joined by State Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein and Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller, state Senate president.

"A lot of us have asked among ourselves, 'Why is he doingthis?' " Sen. Gerald Winegrad, D-Annapolis, said of Astle. "His campaign hasn't been that active, and Tom's a fierce campaigner."

But Astle insisted in a telephone interview that he has been hustling forvotes. "Gerry lives in Annapolis, and I've not been real active in Annapolis," he said. "I've been a lot more active on the Eastern Shore."

He conceded that his limited campaign fund -- only one-tenth the size of McMillen's -- has slowed him down. "But I do have people telephoning and I'm out working," he added.

The Annapolis delegate denied that his poll, taken before the new district lines had been settled and McMillen entered the race, indicated that he couldn't win.

"It said my name recognition was low. But it also said McMillen hada low favorable rating," he said.

In addition to Astle, McMillen faces Del. Samuel Q. Johnson, D-Salisbury, and two others in the March 3 primary. Most of the Eastern Shore delegation has endorsed Johnson, but its members already have said they will support McMillen in November should he win the primary, Wagner said.

"I don't think there's any question about that," said Sen. Frederick C. Malkus, D-Cambridge. "Our first choice is Johnson, and we'll do what we can to nominate Johnson. But in the event that McMillen is the nominee, then we'llsupport him."

Wagner praised McMillen as a candidate who worked hard for party unity in the county and complained of "someone from ourown party who would split that up."

McMillen, however, bragged that he has "shown a willingness to buck the system, to buck the party," pointing to his support for Republican proposals such as a balancedbudget amendment and line-item veto power for the president and his vote in favor of the Persian Gulf war.

"There's a difference between voting the party line and working the party line," he explained. "I'm always trying to work the party line."

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