Six years ago, James B. Hunt was the Democratic governor of North Carolina and engaged in what is still remembered as the battle of the titans -- a $25 million slugfest with Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) for the seat Helms has held since 1973. After starting out with a big lead, Hunt lost to Helms and returned to private life.

Now Hunt is thinking of getting back into the fray. Not to seek Helms's seat this year -- he backed off from that race last summer -- but to run for governor in 1992.

"I am beginning to be a little intrigued by it because I'm so concerned about what's happening in our state," Hunt said. "We lead the nation in infant mortality and we are last in high school SAT scores."

Politicians in North Carolina expect Hunt to make his intentions known before the end of this year so other potential Democratic candidates can plan accordingly. Among those also eyeing the race is Attorney General Lacy Thornburgh.

On the Republican side, Gov. James G. Martin, who succeeded Hunt, is barred from seeking a third consecutive term, but Lt. Gov. Jim Gardner is already up and running. This week he begins airing television commercials statewide that attack the Democratic-controlled state legislature for the state's budget deficit and call for the governor to be given veto power.