The old strident rage is purposely muted, but the ambitious drive is everywhere evident as selfdescribed "underdog" Marion Barry takes his campaign from living room to living room in a painstaking search for enough votes to squeak to victory in the Democratic race for mayor.

Occasionally the old fiery Barry breaks through. When a reporter asked where the money will come from for a proposed increase in school board member salaries Barry responded sharply. "Don't worry about it." But in a new twist to a cultivate political personality, he later apologized.

But he is always polite and patient with his audiences. Even giving lengthy soft-spoken apologies when he falls behind schedule and arrives late. "I had to meet with a lot of people tonight," Barry, in a hoarse and weary voice, told one small gathering recently in the mostly black, middle income area of Shepherd Park. "I'm sure you'll understand."

Over the past two months, Barry has shifted his campaign effort out of the mainly white sections of Washington west of Rock Creek Park, where he has considerable support, into the north-south corridor of the city east of the park and the far Northeast, where poll indicate he is weaker.

In a grueling schedule of small living room meetings, fund-raisers and well-advanced walks, Barry portrays himself or a personable and knowledgeable politician in his strategic quest for a winning margin of the city's large bloc of undecided voters.

Currently his campaign is focused in the heavily Democratic precincts of Shepherd Park in upper Northwest Washington down through Adams Morgan in the cener and south to the city's Southwest peninsula. During July, he spent almost 40 percent of his time wooing the middle-aged home owners in far Northeast across the Anascostia River.

At each appearance, Barry confidently delivers a 20-minute spiel that flows over universal concerns of Dis-jobs and economic development. And trict citizens: housing, property taxes, for each group, after being primed by his community workers, Barry zeroes in on specific neighborhood interests to demonstrate he is "in tune" with them.

Since early spring he appears more self-confident in his talks with small groups. "In April, I was really winging it and covering too may issues," he said. "I've never had to campaign as hard (now) as before, but I've (spoken) enough times now to feel comfortable."

In a race where no major issues separates Barry from his two principal opponents, City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker and Mayor Walter E. Washington, Barry is counting on swaying the voters with personality.

He speaks at a deliberate pace, carefully enunciating the syllables of each word. He dresses in a modishly conservative style and always bends his tall, broad frame forward while listening to the individual complaint of an irate elderly woman. His smile, instead of the threatening scowl of his 1960s activist phase, is toothy and ingratiating.

"He does best in small forums, on his feet, because he is very personable," said Barry's campaign manager Ivanhoe Donaldson.

Barry has been using this style in the decorum-conscious affluent black neighborhoods of Shepherd park, a historically heavy voter turnout part of the city that Barry himself calls "Tucker territory." Although Barry concedes that Tucker most likely will win this area of the city, his present strategy is aimed at pulling enough of the wavering voters onto his side in an attempt to deny Tucker a wide victory margin.

There, according to deputy campaign manager Anita Bonds, Barry's "street dude" black militant image still lingers - to his detriment. "They want to make sure he carries himself with dignity, with polish," said Bonds. "They don't want him to embarrass them."

One of Barry's tenacious community organizers, Shepherd park resident Lilian Sedgwick, filters through a crowd pinpointing undecideds and asking them what they would like to hear Barry talk about. School teacher Sedgwick, vice chairman of the D.C. Democratic State Committee and one of three oc-chairman of Barry's campaign, then passes the information to Barry before he speaks.

In Shepherd Park, Barry emphasizes his own educational achievements, a masters degree in chemistry and, in the same breath, attempts to play down his image as the city's spokesman for the underprivileged while voicing a commitment to improved education.

"Did you know," asked Barry rhetorically, "that we spend $49 million on our jail system for convicts and only $42 million on the University of D.C.? Under a barry administration these types of priorities would be turned around."

At that same gathering in the 1400 block of Iris Street NW, one converted Barry supporter said most of her friends in Shepherd Park would not give Barry a hearing because they still see him as "a street militant.

"It wasn't until I heard him speak" in Barry's first race for his at-large City Council seat in 1974 "that I changed my opinion," said the woman, a concert pianist, who declined to be identified. "You really have to hear him to have the image shaken."

Deliberately shedding his image as a militant while portraying himself as an informed politician, able to represent diverse constituencies, is a major Barry tactic. To bolster the new image, he brings up the public endorsement of him by Local 442 of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, the collective bargaining agent for the city's police force, and the more recent endorsement of the city's Fraternal Order of Police Lodge I. a social club for local and federal police officers.

Aside from the public relations value of such endorsements, Barry said, the telling bottom line in his campaign for the mayor's seat is community organizations.

"I've attracted the working leadership" of the city's Democratic committee, said Barry, "the only poeple who beat the bushes. I think I have the best organization" compared to Tucker or Washington, he added.

Barry still goes over to upper-income areas west of Rock Creek Park for fund-raisers and experts to do as well at smiliar affairs among while supporters in the areas of Adams-Morgan where significant numbers of middle-income whites have moved. His campaign staffers said Barry has begun to do as equally well at fund-raisers held among middle-income blacks in Shepherd Park and Southwest.

Some of Barry's strongest areas of support "are in new neighborhoods where you have a lot of housing renovation, new, younger people moving in," such as Adams Morgan, according to deputy campaign manager Bonds.

In his numerous personal appearances Barry sign up volunteer neighborhood workers and collects small contributions for his "struggling" funds raising efforts, said Donaldson. Barry has collected $160,000 of a projected $220,000 campaign chest compared to $180,000 of a $200,000 ceiling for Tucker. The mayor has raised $100,000, one of his fund raisers said.

During a meet-the-candidate gathering in Southwest Washington's fashionable Waterside Tower recently, Barry mentioned the Waterside Mall, Southwest's shopping center.