The canditate was settling into the regular spiel. Name, office sought, party, the usual. Smooth. He had done it nearly 3,000 times in the last five months.

But before David Temple could start into the second sentence, explaining why he was running in the Democratic primary for the Virginia House of Delegates, the woman behind the door interrupted him.

"Are you running," she asked, "in that race that's unconstitutional?"

Temple, who stepped up his door-to-door campaigning last week after a federal panel ruled Virginia's redistricting plan was unconstitutional, was unruffled by the question.

"There was a part of me," Temple said, "that was relieved to know that at last there was an increasing awareness on the part of the public that there was an election."

Although the three-judge federal panel ruled that the redistricting plan violated federal "one-man, one-vote" guidelines, it also allowed the legislative election to proceed, while directing the General Assembly to come up with a new plan by Feb. 1, 1982.

Temple was not alone in his relief. Last week, a collective sigh was heaved throughout the three-member 52nd District, which covers southeastern Fairfax County, as Temple and the three other Democratic candidates geared up for the last week of campaigning before a primary that they finally knew, after more than six months of uncertainty, was going to be held.

But that sigh reflected only part of the reaction. For candidates Temple, Mark Glaser, Brendan O'Hara and Incumbent Gladys Keating, the decision was both good news and bad: They could go through with the election, but legislators elected this fall will only serve one year rather than the usual two. That means House candidates could face campaigning three years in a row.

"I thought to myself, 'Oh dear, the prospect of running three years in a row really isn't very pleasing.' I didn't expect that. I thought they (the judges) would either turn it down or allow us to go ahead," said Incumbent Keating, who voted for the current redistricting plan drawn up by the General Assmebly this spring. "It's really very peculiar."

Not only do most of the Democratic candidates agree that the ruling was peculiar, but all added that the entire race has been less than what they would call civics-class normal. Redistricting, they complained, has dominated the campaign like no other issue, and the confusion over whether the district boundaries would be approved by federal officials caused many candidates to wonder if they were campaigning in an area that might eventually be part of another district.

"The whole confusion over the reapportionment process was a tremendous burden," said first-time candidate Glaser, a special education teacher in Fairfax County. "You were faced with campaigning since April and still not knowing until a week before the primary whether the areas you targeted, the people you saw or the people who gave you money would be the same people who would be able to vote for you.

"The psychological impact was horrible. It is tough to keep up the momentum of campaign workers and fund-raisers."

In addition to storing up the confidence of their troops, the candidates said much of their campaign time has been spent educating possible constituents about election logistics -- leaving little time to focus on issues.

"People are really confused. They don't know election dates. They don't know where the districts are. They don't know where they should vote. And they don't know who the incumbents are," said first-time candidate O'Hara, a former congressional assistant who worked on Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's presidential campaign last year. "Most of the time you just get a blank look."

Although the spectre of an appeal of the recent ruling still threatens the November election, most of the candidates expect the redistricting confusion to die down after the Sept. 8 primary -- giving them a chance to at last discuss the issues.

As in most Northern Virginia races, however, the Democratic candidates in the 52nd District seem to agree on most of those issues. All support ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, acquisition of more Metro and highway funding for the region and repeal of the tax on food and nonprescription drugs.

Instead, the Democrats in the 52nd District have chosen different areas to emphasize. Incumbent Keating supports revising the state's family laws to give more protection to spouses in divorce cases and contested wills. Both O'Hara and Glaser advocate changes in the State Corporation Commission, which oversees utility rates -- O'Hara would like to see an elected commission and Glaser would like to see consumer representatives included. And, Temple supports closing tax loopholes for corporations and special interest groups.