Donald Temple, a Democratic candidate for D.C. Delegate, was barely inside the door recently at a popular lunchtime restaurant near Chinatown when a stranger stopped him.

"Don't I know you?" the man asked. "I've seen you . . . your posters. You're running for office."

Temple extended his right hand. "Donald Temple," he said. "I'm running for D.C. delegate."

As he moved through the restaurant, it happened again, this time with three potential voters seated at a table. He left them with a broad grin etched on his face.

"People are recognizing me," the first-time campaigner said. "And once they take a look at me, I know I will get their votes because of my experience."

Recognition. Temple needs it for a chance to return to Capitol Hill, where he had worked for 10 years as a lawyer for various House committees, including his last post as senior staff attorney for the House Committee on the District of Columbia. And Temple also needs to overcome the tremendous name-recognition advantages several of his opponents will have when voters go to the polls Sept. 11.

"Name recognition only counts on Election Day," Temple said in a recent interview. "I've been an underdog all of my life. I like being an underdog."

Temple, 37, came to the District in 1971 to attend Howard University. He came from a tough neighborhood in north Philadelphia, where he watched many of his childhood acquaintances fall victim to drugs or crime. He was the first member of his family to attend college, earning a bachelor's degree from Howard and law degrees from the University of California, Santa Clara University, and Georgetown University Law Center.

"I wasn't supposed to make it out of there," Temple said.

If beating stiff odds inspires him, then Temple should have all of the motivation he needs in this race. His opponents include a former high-profile federal official, an at-large D.C. Council member, and three others whose experience in D.C. affairs reach to back to Temple's first days at Howard. All of their names were likely to be more familiar to voters than Temple's -- at least at the start of the campaign.

Early last week, Temple called a news conference to announce that he was staying in the race. The move was necessary to squelch rumors that he was pulling out.

"Several of the leading candidates and their supporters think they have a natural right to the seat, that candidates like myself are in the way and taking their votes," Temple said.

With less than three weeks before the primary, voters will begin to focus on the campaign, he said. And when they examine the candidates seeking to gain the job that has been held by Walter E. Fauntroy since it was created, Temple said, they will find the other candidates lacking.

"People are starving for new leadership," Temple said. "And the key word is leadership."

Temple said his community involvement before the campaign will garner scores of votes. He was a founder of the D.C. Chapter of Concerned Black Men, a group of mentors for young, black males. He established a program to interest minority youth in pursuing careers in law. He represented students who were involved in the demonstrations last year at Howard University.

If elected, Temple said, his priorities would include starting a D.C. statehood caucus in the House and Senate, seeking assignment to the House Appropriations Committee and working more closely with the District government.

"The problem is that there has not been a team concept," Temple said.