The question of whether Democrat Ann Richards ever used illegal drugs has resurfaced in the Texas gubernatorial race, but the manner in which it came up seems to have hurt Republican Clayton Williams more than Richards.

At a news conference in Austin Friday, Richards accused the Williams campaign of using a friendly GOP sheriff in San Antonio and a tipster from Santa Fe to resurrect an old and discredited allegation that she used cocaine in Dallas more than a decade ago. "This stinks to high heaven," said Richards in denying the incident took place.

The latest episode in the Texas drug drama began when the Albuquerque Journal ran a story Friday quoting a New Mexico tour operator as saying he witnessed Richards using cocaine on the morning of Dec. 7, 1977, at the Stoneleigh P. bar in Dallas. The witness, J.D. Arnold, once worked as press secretary to Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox, the Democratic candidate who relentlessly but unsuccessfully pursued the drug angle against Richards in the gubernatorial primary. Arnold was quoted as saying: "I can't stand Ann Richards. I'm sick of her."

Arnold said he told his story to the Mattox campaign last spring, but had not heard back from anyone in Texas until recently when a contact called and told him he should repeat his story to the Williams camp. The contact then called back and said the Williams camp did not want to hear the story, but someone else did. Arnold soon received a call from the Bexar County sheriff's office in San Antonio, and was interviewed by a deputy to Republican Sheriff Harlan Copeland, a big Williams supporter. "I didn't go to them," Arnold said. "They came to me."

Williams's aides said they had nothing to do with the story or the investigation. Richards produced two witnesses who said she was with them the night of the alleged cocaine incident and did not use drugs. The Williams campaign, she said, had "not only lost its momentum but its moral compass as well."