Democratic mayoral nominee Sharon Pratt Dixon appears to be enjoying a comfortable lead over Republican rival Maurice T. Turner Jr., who so far has been unable to convert large numbers of D.C. Democrats with his assertion that Dixon is "soft" on crime.

Strategists for both candidates agree, and interviews with 200 self-described likely voters suggest that while some voters still harbor doubts about Dixon's managerial skills, she holds the upper hand going into Tuesday's election.

"We're still the underdog, no question about it," Turner campaign manager James King said yesterday.

Since capturing the mayoral nomination in a city where Democrats hold a 9 to 1 registration advantage over Republicans, Dixon has committed few blunders, while Turner, a former D.C. police chief, has yet to find an issue compelling enough to lure Democrats to his side.

"Basically I've got an unfavorable view of Turner because he changed parties," said Philip Collins, 33, a Ward 4 resident. "I'm a Democrat but that's really not an important issue with me. But he should have stayed with the Democrats and run as a Democrat, at least for his first race. It seems like he changed just to run."

Dixon has complained that Turner has tried to exploit the "cruelest" kinds of class differences in the city and unfairly attacked her for being a woman candidate. However, Turner's line of attack appears to be having little impact, according to those interviewed. Dixon appeared to be drawing roughly equal and overwhelming support from both men and women.

"Being a lady, she might be a little meaner," said James Smith, 43, of Ward 7 in Southeast. "Ladies are doing more things these days. She would be able to handle herself."

For some, her sex is an advantage, reinforcing her image as a city hall outsider and political reformer.

"We need a lady in there now," said Chester Bellinger, also a Ward 7 resident. "That's the kind of change I want."

Some analysts believe that Turner also may have been hurt in recent days by several events at the national level, including the protracted budget battle between Congress and President Bush and Bush's veto of the 1990 Civil Rights Act.

"It hasn't helped Turner to deflate or ward off concerns about him joining the Republican Party to see these recent events on the part of the national Republican Party," said Alvin Thornton, a Howard University political scientist. "If Bush had remained extremely popular, as he was four or five months ago, then his support for Turner, and Barbara Bush's campaigning for him this week, may have been a significant factor."

Several political activists and key Dixon strategists said that while she is in a strong position going into the election, she needs to further define her image among voters. Voter interviews by The Washington Post, while too few to estimate precisely each candidate's level of support, also suggest that Dixon has yet to win the complete confidence of many District voters.

While roughly half of those Dixon supporters interviewed said they strongly support her, a significant number expressed doubt about whether the former Potomac Electric Power Co. executive, who has never held elective office, has the kind of experience or the temperament needed to solve the city's biggest problems.

Turner has criticized as unrealistic Dixon's proposals for reducing the city's homicide rate and contends that she lacks the administrative experience to assume control of the D.C. government's large bureaucracy. He also asserts that Dixon, a former treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, is unsympathetic to the poor because she grew up in a "silver spoon" environment.

"There's a sense of needing to know more about Sharon," said Dixon campaign manager David E. Byrd.

In the remaining days of the campaign, Dixon plans a two-pronged strategy to further define her pledge to "clean house" in city government, while attempting to "remind people of what makes them uncomfortable with Mr. Turner, that he is a Republican," Byrd said.

The Post's voter interviews indicated that while many District residents view Turner favorably, they also remain skeptical of the former police chief, particularly his conversion last summer to the Republican Party after a lifetime of Democratic Party membership.

Other voters wonder how much Turner, who was police chief for eight years until his retirement in 1989, actually knew about Mayor Marion Barry's drug use. And they also ask whether Turner, with less political experience than Dixon, has the right stuff to be mayor.

Some voters said they were not particularly impressed with either major party nominee.

"Neither one of them glitters," said Theresa Mahoney, 65, a Ward 3 resident in upper Northwest. "Dixon seems thin as far as what she's done. She's been an executive in a big outfit, but how good is she? What kind of real experience does she bring into this tough job? But she's the best of what's available. She's the best chance we have."

Others also questioned Dixon's experience. "How long has she been in politics anyway?" said Kathleen Brown, 44, a Ward 5 voter. "She really doesn't have that much experience. These are tough times to be learning on the job."

Brown, like many Dixon voters, has a favorable impression of Turner and said she might even vote for him.

"With the exception of the fact that he's a Republican, he might be really okay," said Brown. "He did an all-right job when he was police chief. I guess you could say that I'm really undecided. I thought I'd vote Democrat because I am a Democrat. But I do think his experience would help."

King, Turner's campaign manager, said winning undecided voters will be essential to a Turner victory. "People are still in a guessing mode, especially about who Ms. Dixon is and what she will do as mayor," King said.

"We think the voters have been torn by Barry's sentencing and his city council race, and have not focused on the mayoral race," King added. "The question is whether our message -- that the city needs a strong leader -- will fully penetrate."

Others questioned Turner's performance on the job. "I don't think {Turner} did a great job as chief and I don't think being chief qualifies you for being mayor," said District resident Diane Dunne.

The interviews suggest that many questions remain about Turner's abrupt switch to the Republican Party.

"He's a Democrat in sheep's clothing," Fred Schattenstein, 37, a registered independent who lives in Ward 3. "I firmly believe he switched to the Republican Party just because the Republicans wanted to beat Marion Barry.

Schattenstein also wonders how much Turner really knew about Barry's involvement with illegal drugs.

"He has to have some culpability for the problems Marion Barry had," he said. "If he couldn't tell he was having some kind of drug problem, he was either stupid or something else."

But Schattenstein questioned whether Dixon could win a strong enough mandate to "clean house" in the District Building, which she has promised.

"Her support is soft," he said. "Remember, she only had a third of the vote in the primary and this city has a 9-to-1 Democratic to Republican ratio. People are going to vote for her because she's a Democrat. Simply by the sheer numbers it's going to be many years before a Republican can win."

Interviews around the city suggest Turner's support remains concentrated largely within the city's minuscule Republican faithful, as well as among voters who have been attracted to his strong law-and-order message.

"I'm going to support Turner," said Bill Donnelly, 49, a Ward 3 resident and a retired District police sergeant. "I really supported Dixon at the start but I think she lacks a grasp of some of the issues. Some of her statements on the crime issue are incorrect."

Donnelly was particularly critical of Dixon's praise of citizen patrol groups, which she said were more effective than police in reducing crime in some neighborhoods.

He also criticized her pledge to cut 2,000 city workers. "She made that statement and then found out she couldn't fire them," he said. "It was just more empty campaign rhetoric."

Some voters interviewed said they doubted that Dixon could lead the city because she is a woman.

"I don't care for a woman mayor," said District resident Cornia Conley. "Turner knows the system. I've got kids out here too, and I'm worried about them."

Staff writer Carlos Sanchez contributed to this report.