After two months of political quiescence in Texas, the candidates for governor are back in the ring -- which is perhaps the cleanest metaphor one can use to describe the environment in which the gubernatorial campaign has been waged.

The inspiration for verbal combat this time was a fund-raising letter written by Democratic National Committee Chairman Ronald H. Brown that linked GOP nominee Clayton Williams with two other Republicans, Sen. Jesse Helms (N.C.) and Louisiana state Sen. David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klansman running in his state's U.S. Senate race. "If Duke, Helms, Williams and other candidates like them win, those victories for intolerance will have a frightening impact," Brown wrote.

The letter was publicized not by the camp of Democratic nominee Ann Richards but by aides to Williams, who cited it as a case of mudslinging, injecting what Williams called "the innuendo of racism into the campaign."

In a letter to Brown, Williams campaign co-chairman Carole Rylander said, "Do you and Ann Richards really believe Clayton Williams and David Duke represent the same vision of America?"

Richards said she was unaware of Brown's letter. She accused Williams of "hiding behind the skirts of various women who he trots out to do his attacks."

"If he wants to fight," she dared, "he ought to fight like a man."