"Paul is not the type of person who will blow his own horn," said Mr. Cardin, who represents the 3rd District. "We need to make sure we don't take his election for granted. We need to work as hard as we can. . . . It is our highest priority in 1994."
Mr. Cardin also told members of the Columbia Democratic Club that their second priority is to elect Democrats to statewide and local offices in November.
With the exception of the seat held by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, voters this year will choose candidates for virtually every elective office in Maryland.
Mr. Sarbanes, who addressed club members before Mr. Cardin arrived, told them they should be upbeat about Democratic chances this fall.
He cited several national legislative accomplishments in which they could take pride -- such as passage of a family leave bill, motor-voter registration and the Brady bill -- in what he said was an "intense, interesting year" on Capitol Hill.
"We've gotten some things done this year," the state's senior senator said. "We think the economic program is working. We are bringing the deficit down, and we are beginning to get some movement in the economy."
Rather than talk about himself, Mr. Sarbanes, who is seeking a fourth consecutive six-year term in the Senate, praised other Democrats, including Mr. Cardin.
He told club members that a Democratic majority in the Senate had assured passage of most of President Clinton's legislative agenda, but that the party's majority is in jeopardy.
Democrats now hold a 56-44 margin in the Senate, but 21 of the 34 seats being contested this year are occupied by Democrats, he said. "Our exposure is much greater -- we have to protect a much larger number of seats," Mr. Sarbanes said.
He said that despite the Democratic advantage, Republicans are still able to thwart administration initiatives with filibusters -- a tactic by which opponents talk endlessly to avoid taking a vote on a measure.
It takes 60 votes to cut off debate in the Senate, but that rarely happens because some Democrats do not vote along strict party lines, Mr. Sarbanes said.
"I have one of the highest ratings among Democrats for voting with other Democratic senators," he said.
Mr. Cardin, who arrived as Mr. Sarbanes was leaving, bristled at a club member's suggestion that Mr. Clinton might be a liability in the coming election. Mr. Cardin said any president who is an agent of change will not be very popular.
Many of the changes that Mr. Clinton espouses are the sort of people-helping programs that Democrats have traditionally supported, Mr. Cardin said.
"I suffered through six years [in Congress] with presidents who didn't care about programs to help people," he said.
Asked if he might consider running for governor rather than seek a fifth term in the House, Mr. Cardin demurred.
He said that while he is "under no obligation to rule out options," he hopes to return to Congress this year.
As Mr. Sarbanes did, Mr. Cardin urged club members to be enthusiastic about Democratic chances in state and local elections this year.
The Howard County Republican landslide four years ago in which a Democratic county executive, County Council member, state senator and two state delegates were ousted, was an aberration, Mr. Cardin said.
Their defeat was the result of a nationwide, anti-incumbent sentiment rather than an anti-Democratic sentiment -- a situation that could be reversed in 1994, he said.