His wife, Anita, says she packs a .38 Special because the "tiny piece of lead" from a .22 pistol "won't stop someone hopped up on drugs."

His press secretary beds down with a gun. And as commander-in-chief of the Montgomery police, the candidate carries one too, tagging along on drug busts, warning mobsters who threatened his life to stay out of range of his .357 magnum.

But while Emory Folmar, Montgomery's pistol-packing mayor, wins fans by acting like a southern Matt Dillon, shutting down dirty bookstores and missing no chance to fire double-barreled rhetoric at George C. Wallace, he is struggling to muster enough political firepower to deny one of the South's foremost politicians an unprecedented fourth term as governor.

"The issue is certainly George Wallace, but the question is whether he can be denied," says pollster Natalie Davis, professor of political science at Birmingham Southern University. Her polls are among several that give Wallace leads ranging from 10 to 20 points.

However, Folmar's poll, taken by Lance Tarrance and released Monday, shows Wallace trailing by three points, 41 to 44, since he began his negative ad campaign.

Analysts predict Wallace will be tough to beat as he rails against "rich Republicans" in a state that is suffering the second highest unemployment rate in the nation (14 percent) and pitches his populist rhetoric to a classic New Deal-era coalition of blue-collar workers, blacks, farmers and small businessmen.

Wallace draws thousands to rallies across the state where singer Tammy Wynette wails "Stand By Your Man," which she has dedicated to Wallace who was gunned down by a would-be assassin in a Laurel, Md., shopping center during his 1972 presidential race. Wallace, 63, campaigns from a wheelchair, is paralyzed from the waist down and almost deaf, but he promises he'll never get "paralyzed in the head" or turn a deaf ear to the voters.

For the first time since he launched his career as the angry man's blue-collar populist spokesman, Wallace finds himself running as the liberal candidate.

Folmar, 52, is a lean ex-paratrooper who won the Silver Star in Korea -- he wears a miniature of the medal's ribbon as a lapel pin -- and the nickname "Mayoratollah" from combat as mayor.

He attacks Wallace for "keeping Alabama stuck in the mud -- he's the problem." TV ads accuse Wallace of "broken promises" like high utility bills that he never got lowered in three terms as governor. The word "promises" shatters to the tinkle of breaking glass.

To a breakfast crowd of black businessmen here, Folmar recounted details of Wallace "cronies" who went to jail. Wallace's state finance director was convicted of income tax evasion after failing to report goods that state vendors gave him. Wallace's state building commissioner also was found guilty of taking kickbacks.

And after federal bank examiners fired a local banker for shoddy loan practices, Wallace gave him a job as state finance director.

"My daddy taught me birds of a feather flock together," said Folmar, after joining in a robust chorus of "America." "They just want to get their hands in the public trough one more time."

Political analysts say that almost any candidate will draw 40 percent head-on against Wallace because of his political baggage after more than two decades in politics. Folmar aides concede that at least half their vote is anti-Wallace rather than pro-Folmar.

To upset Wallace, Folmar has to draw heavily from urban centers like Birmingham to offset Wallace support among labor, farmers and blacks who account for 30 percent of the vote. That is viewed as unlikely.

Even if Wallace and Folmar split the white vote, blacks are expected to win it for the former segregationist who once barred them at the schoolhouse door.

The state's black caucus also reversed its field from the runoff to back Wallace, although with little enthusiasm.

"We're in a hell of a fix," sighs black state Rep. Alvin Holmes. "We've got to choose between Hitler Wallace and Mussolini Folmar . But at least Hitler is a Democrat. So we're selecting the lesser of two evils."