He may have lost his bid to return to public office this year, but Evan Mecham's influence persists. A political ally of Mecham, the former Republican governor of Arizona who was impeached and removed from office in 1988, is running a strong campaign to unseat the Democratic state superintendent of public instruction.

Both campaigns agree that Republican Bob Miller is running even with C. Diane Bishop, who was elected in 1986. Bishop's reelection bid has suffered from an anti-incumbent mood and public dismay with Arizona schools, where the high school dropout rate is 39 percent. The national rate is 29 percent.

Miller, a retired professor, has run on the hopeful slogan, "Arizona to the top." He won Mecham's endorsement before the September primary but has since played down the association. "I don't see the relationship," Miller said, charging that opponents want to load him down with Mecham's political baggage.

Miller favors parental choice of schools and instruction in "family values." He denied supporting public aid for private schools, but one of his leaflets mentions "vouchers" as a way to provide parental choice. Miller recently remarked on a Phoenix talk show that schools should teach "Christian values" but revised his phrasing to "traditional moral codes" when challenged by the host.

But it is Bishop who has been on the defensive for months. She has had to deny news reports that an adverse reaction to a prescription drug was a suicide attempt, that she used her influence as a member of the state board of regents to help her husband, a University of Arizona professor, and that she moved slowly to investigate fraud within her department that predated her tenure.

Bishop, a former math teacher, has tried to deflect the anti-incumbent mood by billing herself as "an educator, not a politician."