Newly minted Republican Maurice T. Turner Jr. is taking a very, very cheap shot when he tries to scare Washingtonians by telling them that his Democratic opponent for D.C. mayor, Sharon Pratt Dixon, might let the Washington Redskins leave the city.

That tactic is like trying to make the Redskins the Willie Horton of the local race.

By showing up at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium last Sunday and passing out fliers that implied that Dixon would not back a new stadium for the Redskins, Turner was creating and trying to exploit the perception that Washington is in danger of losing the team.

The loss of the Redskins is not an issue, for reasons that have been made clear by Mayor Marion Barry, Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke and others.

A week ago, Dixon said that though she wanted to keep the Redskins in town, she could not see spending already stretched city finances to pay for any part of the stadium construction.

To be sure, in those words Dixon failed drastically to appreciate the depth of football fever in this town. The Skins are more than a football team, they are one of Washington's most endearing common denominators, linking races and creeds, crossing over lines of class, occupation and gender.

In the years that I have lived in Washington, I have evolved from one of those poor souls who hardly knew a soccer ball from a football to one of those who experiences minor withdrawal at season's end.

Cooke has said he would pay to build a new stadium adjacent to the present one, and the city has stated that it would issue taxable revenue bonds to pay for some $60 million in such ancillary construction as roads and parking.

Soon after Dixon's statement, Mayor Barry chided her and said emphatically that the city could not and would not be expected to pay the costs of a new stadium plan from general funds. He said flatly that money was not one of the issues that had to be settled between Cooke and the city.

But Barry's repeated assurances that the financing for the stadium would not require a major fiscal commitment from the city government did not seem to cut any ice whatsoever with Turner.

He put Dixon on the defensive with the issue during the first televised mayoral debate on Friday night. Dixon dutifully assured viewers that she had every intention of keeping the Redskins in Washington.

Nevertheless, on Sunday, with anxious fans flocking into the stadium, Turner handed out fliers that urged Dixon to "help fight for the team that fights for us, the Washington Redskins." From the responses some of the fans gave reporters, many sincerely felt that Dixon might snatch away their beloved Skins.

If Dixon's first statement revealed a misreading of public sentiment, Turner's later cynical moves were more than a misreading -- they were an insult to the intelligence of D.C. voters.

He is counting on them not knowing that the plan has already been formulated to keep the Redskins in Washington and hoping that his playing on what now appears to be irrational fears will win him votes, just as supporters of George Bush hoped that irrational fears would win him votes.

The District faces many important challenges and we deserve hard strategies and solutions by the mayoral candidates.

The voters of this city have had their emotions played upon for more months, since the Vista Hotel bust of Barry. There is evidence, not only in D.C. politics, but also in the nation, is evidence that voters are tiring of negative campaigning and appeals to visceral politics, where they are asked to think with their hearts and not with their minds.

The fact that Turner would buy into this approach does not speak well of him. The citizens of the District hope for better, deserve better and, in the remaining few weeks of the campaign, will be looking for better.