Before the cameras started rolling last week at the City Council candidates' forum recently aired on WJLA-TV, Douglas E. Moore taunted his Ward 5 opponents with a flurry of accusation and innuendo. Moore spared nothing, not even the candidates' personal lives.

"You can't tell any lies tonight," he told incumbent council member William R. Spaulding just before the start of an evening in which he tried--despite the factual record -- to link Spaulding to supporting teen-age sex, drug paraphernalia and a tax on soda and candy.

With two weeks left before the Sept. 14 primary elections, the Democratic race for the Ward 5 council seat has become characterized by Moore's spirited, sometimes bitter, attacks and his opponents' attempts to defend themselves.

The result is that personal style almost has obscured campaign issues such as property tax assessments, crime and economic development -- issues on which there is little difference among the candidates.

Moore, the combative former at-large council member, has focused most of his attacks on Spaulding and has tried to paint the contest as a two-way race, despite the Democratic race's other candidates: Robert I. Artisst, a University of the District of Columbia associate professor; Robert King, former director of the 14th Street Project Area Committee; and Richard S. Lee, a businessman.

Spaulding, meanwhile, has been slow to respond to Moore's allegations. Instead, he has told audiences he prefers to let his seven-year record on the council speak for itself. It is a tactic Spaulding used successfully in securing the nomination four years ago by a scant 330 votes in a crowded field of candidates.

Earlier in the campaign, other candidates sparred verbally with Moore, frequently referring to the kind of behavior that earned Moore six months in the D.C. Jail last year in connection with a fight behind the District Building several years ago. In recent weeks, they have continued the references to Moore's controversial past but have toned them down. "We think people already know the score on him," Lee said.

The other candidates have shifted from making personal attacks to tallying up endorsements and gauging support in the ward's most politically active sections. Moore, has done the same, yet the attacks have continued. The winner of the primary will face Republican W. Ronald Evans and Virgil Thompson, an unemployed teacher who Saturday announced his entry into the race as an Independent candidate.

Artisst, who narrowly lost to Spaulding four years ago and is considered a leading contender this year, lists many of the ward's professional and business leaders as members of his election committee and counts endorsements from organizations of nurses, hospital workers and trial lawyers.

Artisst, the only candidate to use the airwaves so far, plans to run 60-second radio commercials on five stations on the days immediately preceding the election.

Lee, a Michigan Park resident and florist shop co-owner, said much of his support comes from lifelong acquaintances in the ward. Lee, who was raised here and attended Taft Junior High and McKinley Senior High schools, also has sought support from many of the ward's white residents.

"Ten percent of this ward is white, and they have been disenfranchised," Lee said. "I've plugged into them."

He said he hopes to launch a radio campaign in the days before the primary. His campaign to date has concentrated on leafletting and personal appearances and has involved little door-to-door canvassing. However, Lee said he plans to start canvassing throughout the ward, concentrating, like most of the other candidates, on the northern part of the ward, including such areas as Michigan Park and Lamond Riggs that typically have high voter turnout.

Bob King has depended primarily on door-to-door canvassing. King, who has raised the least money and has received no formal endorsements, said he expects his personal contact with the voters to pay off on Election Day. "My strength is coming from the people," King said. He said his campaign platform is to unify ward residents.

King is a resident of Fort Lincoln, a relatively new community on the eastern tip of Ward 5 that already has earned a reputation for political activity. King claims support there.

But so does Moore. "That's Mooreland," he said. Earlier this summer, Moore delivered free cheese and ice cream to senior citizens in the Fort Lincoln complex. He said he since has gained backing from some residents of the new development.

Moore has endorsements from labor union locals that represent residents citywide and in Maryland and Virginia. Moore, an ordained Methodist minister, also claims support of many of the ward's ministers. But Artisst claims support from the clergy as well.

Spaulding's campaign has been a virtual carbon copy of his successful effort in 1978, when a field of active challengers effectively canceled each other out and Spaulding won with a slim margin.

"My support is across the board," he said, declining to identify civic groups who back him or parts of the ward where his support is strong. Spaulding's campaign has been less visible than those of Artisst, Lee and Moore with their inundations of leaflets and posters. Spaulding also declined to discuss his campaign strategy.

Moore has accused Spaulding at public forums of supporting measures that would legalize sex between 13-year-olds, allow stores to sell drug paraphernalia and putting a "tax on the children."

Spaulding said he voted on a sexual reform act that decriminalized some sexual acts and introduced legislation to ban stores from selling drug paraphernalia, not allowing them to sell the products as Moore charged. The "tax on children," he said was on "a product [candy and soft drinks] that is used by all."

Spaulding responds to Moore's statements about his record with characteristic stoicism: "It is extremely simple for a not-very-responsible person to take things out of context and expose them as issues."