The big issue in the race between first-term Rep. Bill Sarpalius (D-Tex.) and his Republican challenger, state Rep. Dick Waterfield: Is Sarpalius an orphan?

Texas Gov. Bill Clements (R), at a campaign appearance in Amarillo for Waterfield last week, said that Sarpalius, 42, told him he went to Cal Farley's Boy's Ranch in 1960 not as an orphan but as the son of a staff member. "I can assure you it was not an easy thing to get him to pinpoint that," Clements said.

Sarpalius, who often cites his childhood experiences, said he never told Clements anything of the sort. "You can't get any farther from the truth than this stuff here," Sarpalius said. "All I want is an apology."

Officials at the boy's orphanage confirmed that Sarpalius's alcoholic mother placed him in the home after her husband abandoned the family and ran off with a belly dancer. His mother later committed suicide. Sarpalius and his two brothers spent seven years at the ranch.

In a statement several days later, Clements said he incorrectly described the circumstances of Sarpalius's childhood because Sarpalius gave him bad information. "If there is any apology necessary, it should come from Representative Sarpalius because he misrepresented the facts," Clements said.

At the same appearance, Clements referred to Sarpalius as "just another lawyer." Sarpalius has no law degree and has never practiced law.

Republicans view Waterfield's challenge as their best chance of winning in three hotly contested House races in Texas.