Two rival candidates have charged that Mayor Marion Barry's campaign for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council is "divisive," and have called on him to withdraw from the race.

The head of the local Democratic Party says the District government would be better off without Barry in an elected position, and has urged him not to run for office.

And, laying what amounts to a political land mine in Barry's path, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson has decided to wait until just 11 days before the general election to sentence Barry on a misdemeanor drug conviction.

Even with the possibility of jail time hanging over his head, and despite the "clean house" mandate from voters in last week's Democratic primary, Barry is damning the torpedoes and sailing full speed into a campaign to save his political career.

"Let the voters decide," Barry said in a recent interview.

It has been said of Barry -- even by Barry himself -- that one of the things that riles him the most is having somebody tell him that he can't do something, as in: He can't win.

Barry has been hearing a lot of that in the aftermath of Sharon Pratt Dixon's astounding victory as Democratic nominee for mayor. But he insists that he is not running just to prove the naysayers wrong.

"I'm beyond the daring stage," Barry said. "My ego has shrunk, and I won't take a 'double-dog dare' any more."

That sounded like the humbled Barry who sat in shock on the set of WRC-TV (Channel 4) on primary night, watching Dixon, who he predicted couldn't burst a grape in a fruit fight, finish first in her race.

"Certainly my case has been an example of what some people are very tired of, and I think Sharon Pratt Dixon represented drastic change," Barry told news anchor Jim Vance.

As the precinct results rolled in, Barry saw the odds against him mount in a way that would have made most contenders throw in the towel.

Dixon came within three votes of winning Barry's neighborhood in Southeast Washington. But Dixon's critical margin of victory clearly came from Ward 3, which is 97 percent white and holds the deepest anti-Barry sentiments.

It is no surprise that the ward west of Rock Creek Park voted overwhelmingly for the only candidate to call for Barry's resignation after his arrest in an FBI drug sting in January.

For days after the election, Barry studied the voting patterns of his sharpest critics: In 1982, 34.2 percent of registered voters in Ward 3 went to the polls; in 1986, 46 percent voted; in 1990, 60.8 percent turned out.

"I'm not being disparaging of white people, but in 1990 the white vote was much higher than ever before and disproportionately influenced this election," Barry said.

Rather than retreat in the face of mounting adversity, Barry began making plans to meet the challenge. After the initial shock of the election results wore off, Barry changed his mind about Dixon's victory being a poor reflection on him.

"This is not sour grapes against Dixon," he said, "but 65 percent of the black vote went against her while 65 percent of the white vote went for her."

Although such statistics no doubt served to create suspicion in the minds of many black voters, Barry moved deftly to court the white vote.

He noticed that 10,000 more Ward 3 residents had voted in 1990 than in 1982 -- and that Dixon beat her closest rival, D.C. Council member John Ray (D-At Large) by a little more than 10,000 votes.

"I'm going to spend a lot of time in Ward 3," said Barry, who changed his party affiliation from Democrat to independent.

After a week of pondering his political tea leaves, Barry began calling himself the "love and unity" candidate -- and declared himself to be the best person for the job.

"I think it's clear that people wanted a change, but it wasn't a 180-degree change," he said. "They don't want a shovel, just a broom."

Of course, voters may dare to prove him wrong.