Maurice T. Turner Jr. began his bid to become the Republican mayor of Washington on a mild April day when the spring still held the promise of another mayoral campaign by Marion Barry, and Sharon Pratt Dixon was languishing in the polls.

That was then. Now, without Barry as a target and with Dixon the triumphant mayoral nominee of the city's ruling Democratic Party, the next eight weeks before Election Day may not seem quite as bright for the former District police chief.

Turner's campaign owed debts of nearly $110,000 as of two weeks ago, and the candidate himself, though maturing as a politician and public speaker, is not as effective as Dixon on the stump, according to some in the city GOP.

And then there is a numerical hurdle Turner must overcome by Nov. 6: a nearly 9-to-1 registration advantage that Democrats enjoy over Republicans in Washington.

"We are the underdog," Turner campaign manager James King said last week, "and I never will let anybody in this campaign forget that."

Nevertheless, King and Turner said they remain optimistic about their prospects against Dixon.

Meeting with reporters two days after winning the GOP nomination in an uncontested primary, Turner declared, "This is a real race . . . . There are going to be Democrats that vote for Maurice Turner."

King and other Turner advisers have fashioned a relatively simple strategy for the fall campaign. They hope to de-emphasize Turner's Republican Party label, despite his highly publicized switch to the GOP last year at the behest of President Bush, and to cast the veteran of 32 years in the police department as a far tougher chief executive to lead the city's war on crime.

Dixon, for her part, said she is quite willing to raise partisan issues, stressing what she described as the shortcomings of the national Republican Party, while continuing with her pledge to "clean house" in city government.

"The kind of politics people in this town have said they want is certainly antithetical to the Republican Party," Dixon said.

"This is the same administration that retrenched on affirmative action, retrenched on set-aside programs, again retrenched on education, retrenched on aid to dependent children, stonewalled child care," Dixon said.

"They have done everything to undermine the new family, and undermine women trying to rear children, and undermine people in the minority community in terms of ever getting a shot to participate in the American mainstream," she said.

"To turn around and say, 'Oh, but we will find all the dollars in the world for prisons,' I find that just extraordinary. Now if {Turner} can run on that platform, I want him to run on that platform."

Dixon said her campaign budget for the general election will be $250,000, in contrast to the $1 million King and Turner have said they hope to raise.

Bush is scheduled to host a major fund-raiser for Turner Sept. 24 at the Mayflower Hotel, and Vice President Quayle also is expected to lend his support to the mayoral campaign.

Ronald H. Brown, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, showcased Dixon at the DNC's biannual meeting here yesterday, and pledged the national party's support of her in the general election.

"She has deep roots in our national party, and we're proud to bring her home this morning," Brown said of Dixon, a lawyer and former utility executive who has served for the past 13 years as the District's national committeewoman on the DNC, and who for four years was treasurer of the national party.

"I need your help," Dixon told her party members, "because I can assure you that George Bush and his friends have set their sights on the District of Columbia."

According to a report Turner filed Sept. 4 with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance, his campaign raised $355,336 before the primary, and had $16,323 in cash and debts of $109,913.

Dixon raised about $250,000 before the primary, and had more than $20,000 in debt.

Since then, however, "the financial support that is being offered is overwhelming," said Amy Goldson, a lawyer who is on Dixon's finance committee.

Dixon plans to channel funds she doesn't need for the general election into a capital growth fund she will use to help businesses for women and minorities in disadvantaged parts of the city.

Turner aides said they hope to deflect any partisan attack by Dixon by pointing to some of the sharp philosophical differences between him and Bush.

In contrast to the president, Turner has said he favors abortion rights and D.C. statehood; he also called last week for the imposition of a new tax on suburban commuters who work in the District.

"Maurice Turner is not a puppet," he said last week. "I'm not beholden to anyone. I'm no one's politician to pull and tug, in this direction and that direction."

Turner, anticipating an attack from Dixon, already has begun to distance himself from the Barry administration, one of her chief targets during the primary campaign.

Turner said that at various times during his eight years as D.C. police chief, the department launched aggressive investigations of allegations of drug use by the mayor.

On the law and order front, Turner has said that he asked Barry repeatedly for more resources to fight drug traffickers, but was denied them.

Dixon will not let go of that issue, she said.

"Chief Turner is very hard put to raise anything about being tough on crime, since he had a magnificent opportunity to exhibit his skills in this regard when he was police chief, at a time when crime just escalated, homicides escalated," she said.

Dixon also criticized Turner for remarking in March 1989 that police could do little more to stem the homicide rate than wait until local drug dealers finish carving up lucrative markets.

"Eventually, the turf will be divided, they will go out and sell their drugs, people will pay their drug bills on time and we're not going to have all of these shootings that we have," Turner said at the time.

Turner said last week that while he expects to remain on friendly terms with his fellow native Washingtonian, the campaign against Dixon will undoubtedly be a lively one.

The former chief has already criticized his opponent as soft on crime and denounced her proposal to fire 2,000 middle-level city government workers.

"At times it will probably be confrontational," Turner said of the race.

Age: 46

Birthplace: Washington, D.C.

Education: D.C. public

schools; Howard University,

B.A., political science, 1965,

and Juris Doctor, 1968.

Marital Status: Divorced. Two

children.

Major Employment: Potomac

Electric Power Co., 1976 to

1989; general counsel and

vice president.

Political Vita: D.C. Democratic

National Committeewoman,

1977 to 1990; Democratic

National Committee

treasurer, 1985 to February

1989.

CAMPAIGN PLEDGES:

No new taxes.

Fire 2,000 middle- and

upper-level city managers.

Remove boards from all

abandoned public housing

within 18 months.

Obtain additional $100

million-$200 million in

federal payments.

MAURICE T. TURNER JR. (R)

Age: 55

Birthplace: Washington, D.C.

Education: D.C. public

schools; FBI National

Academy, and criminal justice

courses at American

University and the

University of Maryland.

Marital Status: Divorced.

Three children.

Major Employment: Marine

Corps, 1954 to 1957; D.C.

police department, 1957 to

1989, the last eight years as

chief.

Political Vita: Switched

registration from Democrat to

Republican in 1989.

CAMPAIGN PLEDGES:

No new taxes.

Favors lifting D.C. ban on

handgun sales.

Will reduce D.C. payroll

through attrition.

Favors commuter tax.