The hard-fought Ward 7 Democratic City Council race turned into a battle of the motorcades yesterday -- last-minute Car Wars in the quiet streets of Far Southeast.

Candidate Johnny Barnes and his supporters had just emerged from a morning rally at First Rock Baptist Church on Alabama Avenue SE and were lining up for a 22-car motorcade. The contender and his family were perched in a convertible near the head of the file.

But along came a car plastered with signs for H. R. Crawford, the other major contender in the race - - - and another Crawford car . . . and another . . . It was Crawford's own 39-car motorcade, with Crawford smiling and waving out the window of a camper.

The Crawford motorcade drove right past the still-forming Barnes caravan, and the two sides fought to a standoff in a pitched battle of horn honking, sign waving and plain old screaming.

The incident was a fitting climax to the Ward 7 campaign, which has been the most actively contested in the city leading up to Tuesday's primary elections. Observers believe the race between Crawford and Barnes is close, with a third candidate trailing -- D.C. school board employe Emily Y. Washington.

On Tuesday, voters will also choose Democratic and Republican candidates to compete in the Nov. 4 general election for two at-large council seats, as well as seats from Wards 2, 4 and 8. (John West is unopposed on the Republican Council ballot in Ward 7). Though no Statehood Party candidates will appear on the ballot, Statehood voters may cast write-in votes for their party's nominees.

The Ward 7 Democratic race has seen a stream of recriminations from the Barnes and Crawford camps, with each accusing the other of ripping down campaign posters, spreading untrue rumors and packing candidates' forums with supporters.

Crawford, a 41-year-old realtor and former assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, has based his campaign around what he calls "gut issues" -- housing, unemployment, the need for more services for senior citizens, and greater political unity for residents of the ward.

Barnes, 33, works as a legislative aide to D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy. While he talks about the other issues as well, Barnes says he believes the city's budget crisis is the overriding issue, and proposes expanded business development as a long-range solution.

Ward 7 occupies the far corner of the city east of the Anacostia River, and is roughly bisected by Ford Dupont Park, North of the park lie settled, middle-class neighborhoods dotted with pockets of poverty and public housing projects. Some areas south of the park have seen an influx of young black professionals, forming what incumbent Ward 7 council member Willie J. Hardy -- who is not seeking reelection -- once called "my little Silver Coast."

Both the Barnes, and Crawford camps expect that despite the high visibility of the campaign, only about half the more than 27,000 registered Democrats in the ward will make the trip to the polls on Tuesday.

To win, both sides say they must do well in the high-voting precincts clustered around Pennsylvania Avenue south of the park.

Crawford has attempted to build support based on his endorsement by the Greater Washington Central Labor Council. He emphasizes that while he has labor's backing, Barnes has received campaign money from the Greater Washington Board of Trade, the city's largest business group.

Joslyn Williams, head of the political arm of the labor council, helped organize Crawford's motorcade yesterday. He said the union has telephoned each of the 4,800 registered union members in the ward and asked them to vote for Crawford.

In addition, Crawford has received support from several influential black clergymen in the area, such as the Rev. Floyd H. Gayles of St. James Baptist Church, Bishop Cecil Bishop of John Wesley AME Zion Church, Rev. Willie B. Allen of Upper Room Baptist Church and others.

The thrust of Crawford's campaign has been to emphasize his long tenure as a resident of the ward -- 25 years -- and the roots he has developed in the community. At forums throughout the ward, Crawford would invariably point out a window and tell the audience that he went to school "right over there."

Crawford is a smooth performer on the stump, hitting responsive chords in audiences when he talks of the need to "strengthen the moral fiber" of society, railing against the "epidemic of venereal disease" in the schools, as well as the "degrading" condition of most public housing and "pushers who sell dope from ice cream trucks" in the neighborhoods.

He tries to preempt criticism of his past business dealings or his reputed considerable wealth by saying as he told a group of senior citizens recently, "Oftentimes people like me are accused of having made it and forgotten whence they came. I'm running to win this for us. I can now afford to share what I've gained over the years with my city."

By contrast, Barnes is a wooden campaigner. Though he has developed positions and specific plans of action on a number of issues ranging from the budget crisis to the need to upgrade the city's schools, he has been hampered at forums by his stilted delivery.

He tries to deflate the issue of his having moved into the ward only three years ago by telling audiences, "I think you have to look at the quality of my service to the citizens of Ward 7, not just the quantity."

Barnes' campaign organization is drawn from a younger, more polished group than Crawford's. Some key members of his staff were classmates of his at Georgetown University Law School, including attorneys David Wilmot and Houston Roberson.

Barnes has been endorsed by a number of elected officials, including Fauntroy, Council Chairman Arrington Dixon and several other members of the council. In recent days Fauntroy and aide Clifton Smith have been active on Barnes' behalf. Public relations man Guy Draper, the city's former acting chief of protocol, who is considered a political ally of Dixon and former council chairman Sterling Tucker, was called in last week to hurriedly produce radio ads for Barnes.

Barnes, who along with Fauntroy enthusiastically backed Sen. Edward M. Kennedy for president, also has received a letter of endorsement from Kennedy. Kennedy's letter mentions Barnes' role in winning congressional passage of the D.C. Voting Rights Amendment, now stalled in the ratification process by state legislatures.

Barnes has relied on what workers consider a natural appeal to the area's recently arrived young professionals, along with extensive door-to-door campaigning in an attempt to develop support in older neighborhoods.

Emily Washington has run a shoestring "people's campaign." She has failed to raise the kind of money or draw the kind of endorsements that the other two candidates have received. But at public forums, she has at times upstaged her rivals, and the Barnes and Crawford camps predict she will draw at least 5 percent of the vote.

In other city contests, Democratic incumbent at-large council member John L. Ray is being challenged by 55-year-old business consultant Raymond W. Powell. Powell has drawn little support, and Ray, with plenty of money and endorsements, is expected to win.

Incumbent GOP at-large council member Jerry A. Moore Jr. is facing a stiff challenge from two attorneys associated with the historic preservation

In Ward 2, incumbent Democrat John A. Wilson is unopposed. Ann Kelsey Marshall is unopposed for the Republican nomination in that ward.

In Ward 4, incumbent Democrat Charlene Drew Jarvis faces no opposition. Republican Israel Lopez is also unopposed for his party's nomination in the ward.

In Ward 8, both incumbent Democrat Wilhelmina J. Rolark and Republican Leon F. Parks are unopposed.