Now comes one Reid Chambers, walking up the center aisle of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church downtown, full of doubt and seeking enlightenment on his lunch hour. Not spiritual enlightenment, no. Political. This is the 1990 D.C. mayor's race at its most elementary, a candidates forum.

Chambers slides into a pew. "I really haven't decided how to vote," the 50-year-old lawyer says. Today will tell, maybe. The church is filling. Bring on Clarke, Dixon, Fauntroy, Jarvis and Ray.

Each day now -- and up to half-a-dozen times in a single day -- the Fab Five of the Democratic mayoral race can be found in community centers, recreation centers and churches, spraying their views before yet one more audience.

No television set comes between voter and candidates here. No advertising, no newspaper articles. The politicians stand before crowds of 6 or 25 or 100 and literally plead for votes, because in a five-way race in a city the size of the District, a few voters here and there can make a difference.

"You get tired. Your voice gets tired," said Sharon Pratt Dixon, referring to the forums. "But I think the only way to have good government is to have people involved."

Forums can get nasty. Forums can be entertaining. Crowds applaud good lines, even the ones the candidates have hauled out in other forums. The gatherings become studies in psychology as campaign workers meld with the crowds to lead seemingly spontaneous outbursts of love for their man or their woman.

See those guys vigorously applauding John Ray at a forum in Shepherd Park? They walked in with him.

Hear that guy in the back as Dixon speaks at Shepherd? The one who keeps yelling, "Whoa, myyyy kinda candidate!" Hmmmm: He's already covered with Dixon buttons.

And who's that cheering the loudest for Charlene Drew Jarvis at Grace Lutheran Church? He also drives her car.

"I hate to make a choice based on some performance like this, but I don't see any other way to do it," Chambers said shortly before Wednesday's forum at the Presbyterian church got underway.

There have been so many forums, in a campaign that got underway more than a year ago, that no one knows how many. "Countless," said D.C. Council Chairman David Clarke, one of the five. In fact, said Clarke, this outpouring of democracy might be out of hand. Forums often take place at the same time, forcing candidates to arrive late or leave early, or skip one altogether. This doesn't go down well with audiences.

"Groups feel you deny them, that you care about somebody more than them," Clarke said. "I just wish there could be a clearinghouse of them."

But for undecided voters, several said, forums have become an easy way to decide because they get more than issues there. They get eye contact. They get gestures. They can take a man's measure, or a woman's. Of such things are big choices made.

The candidates agree that a great many voters still are undecided. According to a poll conducted from Aug. 21 to 27 by The Washington Post, 21 percent of the electorate had not yet chosen a candidate. The indecision seems to be boosting attendance at the forums, Dixon said in an interview.

"You get a chance to see body English, and that's important," said Don Bowie, 49, an environmental consultant, who was waiting Wednesday night for the forum at Grace Lutheran. "I've been watching everything on TV and I wanted to get out and see them in person . . . . {It} lets me know if they can think on their feet."

Besides, said Bowie, he has no feel for this campaign, for what the five have to say about issues. "I'm not getting that warm, fuzzy feeling from any of them," he said. "I want to hear something that's going to reach out and grab me."

Sitting nearby was Adele B. Clark, 82, a retired schoolteacher, similarly in need of a gut feeling. "We don't know what they stand for," Clark said. "The best thing is to look at them in the eye and hear them. Sometimes you can get more about a person by looking at them, rather than reading."

Matt Maio, 23, was there, too, "to see how they handle themselves without a script."

"Image, and how they present themselves, is pretty much 50 percent of it," said Maio, who just moved to the District after graduating from Virginia Tech. "I'm trying to cut through some of the banter."

Reid Chambers wanted specifics.

"I'm getting more and more troubled about inefficient delivery of city services," he said. "I've had to suffer through long lines twice at the motor vehicles department. That doesn't need to be . . . . I feel increasingly the city just isn't operating."

With that, he sat back and listened as the Presbyterian forum began. More than 100 people were listening with him.

It was no contest at first: Jarvis. She was the only one there. In her race-through-a-hundred-issues style, she slashed away at Ray for all the money he's received from real estate developers. "The real estate guys aren't the villains," she said. "It's the candidate who's the villain."

Audience approval for that one.

But Dixon has arrived. Her style is slower, her voice deeper. She's going to clean house, she says. And people have told her, "Mrs. Dixon, don't take a broom, take a shovel."

Applause mixes with the laughter. Dixon pulls ahead on applause. (She seems to have more audience plants.)

Clarke appears. Clarke is always full of numbers and always asking voters to check the record. But the microphone crackles with static, drowning some of his rhetoric. "Hold it still," whispers Jarvis.

But Clarke scores with an improvised line when moderator Susan King of WJLA-TV (Channel 7) asks why he has no TV ads: "You people cost a lot of money, Susan."

Dixon digs at Clarke over something: "Particularly you, Mr. Clarke, should know better." He digs back: "Let's give her a hand, she's articulate in her frustration." (The audience loves this.) Jarvis listens and watches the duel. Ray and Walter Fauntroy never show.

It's over: "I thought it was more heat than light, for the most part," said Chambers. "It does seem to be pretty personal. I didn't get a clear sense of issues."

He's still undecided. The candidates move on to the next forum.

"Today we have six," said Dixon as she left. "I have five more to go."