The verbal assault often began even before a voter got out of the car.

That's when a group of nearly two dozen hoarse-voiced campaign workers standing outside St. Timothy Episcopal Church, 3601 Alabama Ave. SE, began pitching their candidate.

For most of a block in front of the church, in one of the most politically active precincts in the city, voters were met with every manner of plea and offered a blizzard of campaign literature.

"The trick is to put the literature in people's hands," said Sadie Clark, a supporter of school board President Nate Bush (Ward 7) who was one of the first to greet voters at the church. "You can't guarantee they're going to read it, but you have to make sure it's there for them."

Some voters were gracious, stopping and collecting all the literature. Others shrugged and declined the material, saying they had made up their minds.

Thousands of eager District residents joined the front lines of democracy yesterday to help their candidates make last-minute pleas for support.

"After the mayor and Eleanor Holmes Norton, they don't know who the hell they're voting for," said Fay Smith, who stood outside St. Timothy and who was supporting Ward 7 school board candidate Robert Matthews.

A noncommittal or even sympathetic nod from a voter guarantees nothing, Smith noted. "Bagging a voter is like trying to bag a million dollars."

And the voters were many. Leona Agouridis, spokeswoman for the D.C. Board of Elections, predicted a record turnout for a city election.

A record 308,105 D.C. residents registered to vote, about 66 percent of those eligible. That figure exceeds the the number of registered voters for the November 1986 mayoral election by 10 percent and surpasses the record set in the November 1988 presidential election by nearly 3 percent.

The September primary election drew a record 135,635 voters. In 1986, 134,173 voters turned out for the general election, compared with 117,425 in the 1982 general election and 100,861 in the 1978 general election.

Agouridis said voting went smoothly, except for some delay caused by the length of this year's ballot, which was printed on three computer cards.

Precinct 19, at Dunbar High School in the Shaw neighborhood of Northwest, opened about 20 minutes late.

"There were about 25 of us standing around," said Bill Eldred, a civilian employee of the Navy who was held up by the delay.

Agouridis said elections officials had problems getting school officials to unlock a closet that contained the ballots.

And while the day may have belonged to the candidates, it was the campaign workers who were left to spread the message. Sometimes in unique fashion.

One car sporting "Dixon for Mayor" signs was hard to avoid in Ward 8. A huge red and white panda bear was placed atop the car, which also was dragging a headless effigy carrying a broom, a popular symbol of Sharon Pratt Dixon's campaign, indicating incumbents being swept out of office.

For others, the final persuasion came verbally, mostly outside polling places. "I'm here to make sure I put my people in office," said Irma Kinder, who sat in front of Precinct 125, in Ward 8's Hendley Elementary School. "I'm here to see that people who don't have our community at heart don't get into office."