The question for Arkansas voters this fall is whether they want the Rising Star, former Democratic governor Bill Clinton, to soar again, or plummet into political oblivion. The jury is still out.
In the last days of the campaign, Clinton and Republican incumbent Frank White were campaigning at fever pitch in a tight race in which Clinton, the leader for more than a month, is worried about fluctuations in his strength. He is particularly concerned about the large number of undecided voters, which in one poll is 18 percent.
As the race heats up, it gets more negative, with Clinton calling White a "liar" and White responding that Clinton is "not telling the truth" on a number of issues.
One poll shows Clinton ahead by about 10 points, but Democratic officials concede that the race is very close and could go either way. Clinton remembers that in 1980 the polls showed him with a seemingly insurmountable edge over White, who won an impressive upset.
Just two years ago, Clinton was the wunderkind of Razorback politics. At 34 he was the nation's youngest governor, the chairman of the Democratic Governors Conference, a mediator between Kennedy and Carter forces at the 1980 Democratic National Convention.
A few national political reporters gazed into their crystal balls and envisioned him on a fast track to the White House.
Then Arkansas voters sent him a message: They unceremoniously tossed him out of office, wondering who was minding the store back home while he was off being a Rising Star. Why did he let all those Cuban refugee misfits come to Arkansas and why did he raise the car license tags by $17?
Now a chastened and apologetic Clinton is back on the campaign trail. "The people perceived I was out of touch," Clinton concedes.
This time the Georgetown- and Yale-educated Clinton has gone to some lengths to reshape his image to assure Arkansans that he's really just one of them after all.
His neatly layered brown hair is a shade shorter, and his lawyer wife, who went by her maiden name of Hillary Rodham in 1980, now campaigns full time with her husband and tells voters she's Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, Clinton has gone out of his way to solicit views and questions from his campaign crowds.
Most polls show there are enough voters who wanted to rap Clinton on the knuckles last time, not defeat him, who now plan to give him another two-year term.
Still, there is considerable uncertainty because of what Clinton calls "a certain amount of volatility" among Arkansas voters. White's most recent poll showed him with a 45-to-43 lead and his aides call the race a dead heat that can go either way.
White and Clinton have sharply honed their rhetoric and mince few words about how disastrous each other's administration has been. Both have raised record sums for an Arkansas election -- Clinton more than $1.2 million and White more than $1 million -- to fill the airwaves with their claims and counterclaims.
The 49-year-old White, only the second Republican governor in Arkansas in more than a century, says that unlike Clinton he makes no apologies for his term as governor.
"I lowered your license tags, didn't raise taxes and set execution dates [21 to Clinton's one,"] the ebullient, beefy White blurted out at the Over the Hill Club in rural Delight where four good ole boys were spending an afternoon playing dominoes.
Unimpressed, one merely looked up and said, "Governor, I just want to know if you've got the right domino." White laughed and moved on.
The governor relishes telling voters that Clinton commuted the sentences of 69 prisoners while he only commuted four.
Meanwhile, Clinton flails at White for boosting the cost of each drug prescription for Medicaid recipients from 50 cents to $1 and cutting the permissible number of prescriptions from four to three each month.
"This is a man who campaigned all over the state saying what a horrible man I am," Clinton says of White. "I wouldn't have cut taxes $12 million [as White did] if the only way was to cut back on medicine for old folks."