K.V. Jackson has been trying to make sense out of the D.C. mayoral race for weeks. And she is not alone. Like many Washington residents, Jackson has watched the televised debates, read the newspapers carefully and tried her best to make a responsible choice.

"I've made a decision," the 43-year-old federal worker said during lunch Friday at Waterside Mall in Southwest, "and it's changed three times in the last month."

District voters seem to be in a muddle when it comes to choosing their next mayor. On the final weekend before the Democratic primary, The Washington Post talked to more than 100 people in an unscientific sampling of opinions and found that many voters in each of the wards still haven't made up their minds.

Also, not many of those who have selected a candidate seem to be ironclad in their allegiance. They talk about arriving at a choice through a winnowing process that rewards a "lesser of evils," rather than celebrates a champion.

Jackson said she started with Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, but he wore thin. She moved to D.C. Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (Ward 4), "but she's far too pushy." And so she's settled on lawyer Sharon Pratt Dixon because, after watching her on television, she decided Dixon had class, "the way she maintained her demeanor and her consistency."

While council member John Ray (At Large) has been the apparent front-runner in the five-way race for the Democratic mayoral nomination, recent polls have shown that Dixon has jumped ahead to challenge Jarvis's second place. Also, the polls show, Ray has lost some of his lead and the number of "undecided" voters has grown.

According to a poll conducted by WJLA-TV (Channel 7) last week, the largest share of Dixon's support came from white voters, most of whom live in Wards 1, 2, 3 and 6.

Bill Lawth, 50, an executive who was shopping at the Georgetown Safeway yesterday, said, "I don't know enough about Dixon, but I like the concept of getting a whole new staff, cleaning out the bureaucracy." He had been leaning strongly to Ray "until this week, when I realized Dixon might have a chance."

Some attribute the surge in support for Dixon to three endorsements of her in the editorial pages of The Washington Post. Others say her performance in four televised debates during the past week was responsible for her newfound popularity.

A third school of thought is that both of the above made Dixon a legitimate candidate in the eyes of many who liked her style and message all along, but who were reluctant to "waste" a vote on her.

Several people interviewed in Ward 4 said they were leaning toward Ray until Jarvis made an issue of the large contributions developers have made to his campaign.

"I think Jarvis will stand up to people more," said Ernest Jackson, a cabdriver and D.C. government employee. "I have been voting for Barry all this time, so I think we need someone just as strong. Jarvis has been showing that these last few weeks."

"There are so many of them," Jay Collins, a 40-year-old city worker, said of the candidates.

Like everyone else interviewed Friday afternoon at the Brentwood Village shopping center in Ward 5 in Northeast, Collins said she doesn't have a favorite. Either the election remains in the fuzzy future for these voters, or they have been unable to distinguish between the candidates enough to call one their own.

Torrance Lewis, an unemployed 22-year-old who was hanging out in the parking lot, said he plans to earn $50 working the polls on Election Day for John Ray. He said he is "still debating" whom to vote for, however.

The Rev. Stephen N. Short Sr., 48, a Metro bus driver who volunteers as a chaplain for the Police and Firefighters Protestant Society, said, "I'm still rolling the bones. I don't know who to vote for."

He has narrowed the choice down to Fauntroy vs. Dixon, however. "I have been very impressed by her very clear and different voice," he said of Dixon.

In Adams-Morgan yesterday, office manager Dorothy Clift, 41, described the process by which she has "pretty much" decided on Dixon.

"There are certain people I have ruled out: Walter Fauntroy and Charlene Drew Jarvis," she said. "I guess I really feel that people who have been on the city council bear a strong responsibility for the shape the city is in . . . .

"I want a fresh start, away from this incestuous political scene. The candidates are all basically saying the same things except for Walter Fauntroy, who has a six-step plan to fix everything. The man makes me laugh."

Bill Marple, a classical guitarist, said he is trying to choose between Jarvis and Dixon. "If it looks like Jarvis has a chance of beating Ray, I'll vote for her," he said. "I like Dixon, but I have a stronger feeling that I don't want Ray in there."

The D.C. Council is guilty of "management by crisis," he said. "You can't do any worse than to give Dixon, a newcomer, a chance."

Marple's wife, Suzanne, who works for the Board of Education, said she is voting for Jarvis. "I agree everyone in office is part of the problem," she said. "But I don't think Dixon will be able to handle the job. You can't just go in there and sweep everyone out and alienate everyone. I like Jarvis. She's a people person. I think she has a really good heart."

Derek Weitzel, a 26-year-old caterer who was shopping at a Safeway on Connecticut Avenue near Chevy Chase Circle yesterday, said he is deciding between Ray and D.C. Council Chairman David A. Clarke.

Clarke "has a very good history," Weitzel said. "He's a liberal, as I am. But it seems to me he's fallen into that classic liberal fault of solving problems with more bureaucracy." Dixon seems to be the only candidate likely to cut jobs, he said, while Ray "is too much a continuation of what's happened in the past."Staff writers Michael Abramowitz, Rene Sanchez and Steve Twomey contributed to this report.