Mayor Dennis J. Kucinich is carrying an olive branch instead of rattling a saber these days. He is praising City Council enemies and even shook hands recently with one of the bankers who he repeatedly has accused of trying to ruin the city.

His television commercials are as gentle as a folk ballad. He walks through the city's neighborhoods kissing the elderly and giving autographs to schoolchildren.

It is a new image for the feisty Kucinich, who admits he is facing an uphill battle for reelection against three opponents who have made confrontation politics a key issue.

Voters go to the polls tomorrow for the nonpartisan primary. The two top vote-getters will square off in the general election Nov. 6.

Kucinich, 33, reads the public mood like a quarterback reads a defense. He has correctly sensed that Clevelanders are fed up with the political warfare that has been a trademark of his administration, and he has corrected his offense accordingly.

He made peace with his main enemy, City Council President George L. Forbes, after their agreement that the city pay $3.75 million of $14 million in defaulted bank loans.

"We made up, but we haven't kissed," Kucinich said.

But Kucinich still is preaching his urban populist gospel. He portrays himself as a progressive, new-order politician.

Kucinich calls himself a "child of Cleveland's streets" who has not forgotten the poor and disadvantaged and is battling the banks and utilities on behalf of their economic rights.

"Yes, I fought the last two years," he said in response to complaints that he seems to be fighting all the time. "I fought for you, the people of Cleveland, day in and day out to stop the corruption which made government work only for the fat-cats."

In contrast to Kucinich, Lt. Gov. George V. Voinovich, a Republican with strong credentials in Cleveland's large ethnic community, is running as an old-fashioned politician, stressing maturity and profesionalism.

Voinovich downplays his ties to the GOP in this Democratic stronghold by stressing his Slovenian heritage -- Kucinich is Croatian -- and the city's nonpartisan system.

"Like Fiorello LaGuardia said, there really isn't a Republican way to clean streets or even a Democratic way to run a government," said Voinovich.

Kucinich's two other major challengers are council Majority Leader Basil M. Russo, who is running with the support of Forbes and other black leaders, and state Sen. Charles L. Butts, who is hoping to capitalize on voter dissatisfaction with the other candidates.

Kucinich sees Voinovich as his strongest opponent, and his strategy is geared to depicting Voinovich as a pawn of "fat-cat business interests."

In a debate Friday, Kucinich said he refused to bow to the corporate interests or "I wouldn't be here this afternoon facing an uphill battle against the quiet onslaught of corrupt corporate powers who are secretly funneling cash into the campaign of the Republican in order to steal back the city quietly like thieves in the night."

Voinovich has raised $140,000 so far, double that of Kucinich's campaign fund.

Voinovich attempts to neutralize his pro-business image by reminding voters that he supported Kucinich in keeping the Municipal Light plant, the subject of a continuing controversy here.

Voinovich endorsed Kucinich in 1977 but broke with the mayor later because he said Kucinich appointed incompetent administrators who are more interested in confrontation than in professional public service.

The polls so far show that Kucinich and Voinovich will survive tomorrow's primary.A local television station said its poll showed Voinovich with double Kucinich's vote, 32 percent to 16 percent, but with a large 35 percent undecided. Of the undecided the polls show most are in the black wards where Kucinich traditionally has run poorly.

Where Kucinich is vulnerable, according to the polls, is on the performance of his administration in delivering basic services. A majority of those interviewed in one poll said they believed city services as well as the city's image worsened during Kucinich's administration.

Kucinich barely survived an August 1978 effort to remove him from office, winning a recall election by a margin of 276 votes. Four months after that firestorm came the city's default.

Another of Kucinich's nagging problems is his friendship with liberal activists like Tom Hayden, a founder of Students for a Democratic Society, and his wife, Jane Fonda. Voinovich and Kucinich's other enemies are quick to remind conservative ethnic voters that Fonda visited Hanoi during the Vietnam war.

Hayden told a reporter last week, "everybody should ask Kucinich what his whole position is on economic democracy, not on Tom Hayden."

Voinovich's chief liability is his boss, Ohio Gov. James A. Rhodes, a blue-blooded Republican who has never been a crowd-pleaser in Cleveland.

Voinovich also is haunted by his conservative voting record while a state representative during the 1960s, including a vote against a fair housing bill that appears to have alienated permanently some black voters.