The Tulsa World, in a boxed front-page editorial, called it "a voice from the sewer . . . the filthiest stunt ever." The Daily Oklahoman said it was "despicable and stupid," a "new low in political rhetoric."

They may be right.

The straight news was that Gov. David Boren a former Rhodes scholar seeking the Democratic Senate nomination, was asked by an opponent to swear under oath that he wasn't a homosexual or bisexual. Boren indignantly denied the allegation, calling it a "vicious lie."

But the analysis was that the attack, unsupported by any evidence, might trigger a sympathetic backlash for Boren in the Aug. 22 primary.

"It's an incredibly high price to pay. But there's no question it will boost his campaign," said Boren press spokesman Rob Pyron. "In the long run it will have the opposite effect of what his opponents intended it to have."

Boren, 37, has two major Democratic opponents - former congressman Ed Edmonson and state Sen. Gene Stipe - in what is escalating into one of the most vicious and colorful Senate races in recent memory here.

A fourth candidate, former state legislator George Miskovsky, raised the sexual issue in a letter sent to Boren Thursday. In it, he asked that the twice-married governor respond to the following questions under oath:

"Do you know what a homosexual or bisexual is? Are you a homosexual or bisexual? Have you ever been a homosexual or bisexual? Have you ever engaged in homosexual or bisexual activity?"

Boren, his wife, Molly, a former judge, at his side, promptly called a news conference. "The statement is utterly ridiculous and categorically untrue," he said. "It is shame that a person has to be subjected to this kind of personal attack in order to try to serve the public. I particularly resent the statement because it reflects upon the reputation of my wife, my children and my family as well as myself."

Miskovsky, although widely attacked editorially throughout the state, stuck to his guns. "If a candidate is a homosexual, a person who is mentally deranged or a person of bizarre philosophical demeanor, then the people have a right to know," he said.

Oklahoma has a well-deserved reputation for political bloodletting and rough and tumble campaigns. But almost everyone agreed yesterday that Miskovsky's charge had dropped it to a new low.

Miskovsky is no stranger to such tactics. For weeks he has crisscrossed the state, calling the chubby governor "Porky Boren, our part-time governor." He has labeled-Edmondson, who lost in two previous Senate attempts, and is a favorite of labor, "AFL-IOU Edmondson."

Stipe, an equally rugged campaigner, has also jumped into the fray, calling the governor a "Boren again loser," afraid to meet his opponents in debate. Edmondson, not to be outdone, accuses Democrat Boren of being a closet Republican uninterested in the concerns of the average Oklahoman.

The attacks have changed what two months ago looked like an easy race for Boren, a popular governor, into an alley fight.

At that time, neither Stipe, a power in the state legislature for almost three decades, nor Edmondson was in the race to fill the seat of Republican Sen. Dewey F. Bartlett, who is retiring.

Both are formidable opponents. But each has major liabilities. After two unsuccessful Senate bids, Edmondson has an image as a loser. Stipe, by contrast, is widely viewed as a wheeler-dealer who is routinely described as "the Prince of Darkness" in newspaper accounts.

Boren is going into the last 10 days of the campaign favored over both. But to avoid a special runoff election, he must win at least 50 per cent of the vote - a difficult task in a crowded field.

Personalities have totally dominated the race. There are few real issues. Everyone wants to cut taxes, control government, help the farmer and keep the oil companies in business.

Stipe, 51, one of the state's most controversial legislators and attorneys, is the most colorful of the bunch. He has a bigger-than-life reputation as a trial lawyer (even his enemies say, "If I were ever arrested for murder, Gene Stipe is the first guy I'd call") and backroom manipulator, perhaps the last of a breed of old-style cronyistic politicians in the state.

He's running as a guy who can bring home the bacon, a self-described latter day Robert S. Kerr (the longtime Senate powerhouse from Oklahoma). "Bob Kerr was a winner and Oklahoma loves a winner," he says.

He is a self-made multi-millionaire from the Little Dixie area of southern Oklahoma, the state's most Democratic area. His campaign, however, has been plagued with repeated charges of financial irregurities, and an FBI investigation into allegations that he took kickbacks to obtain a government backed loan for a meat-processing company in his hometown of McAlester.

Edmondson served in Congress 20 years, but has twice lost close Senate races. Both he and Stipe find Boren's media-oriented style deeply distasteful.

He says he decided to run because "the conviction grew in me that we had two Republicans running rather than a Democrat and Republican. I found there was a real yearning for someone who would stand up for Democrats."