To the surprise of many who saw him only as a "spoiler," former governor Walter Hickel, 71, who was later fired as interior secretary by President Richard M. Nixon, may reclaim his old job on a third-party ticket against state Sen. Arliss Sturgulewski (R) and former Anchorage mayor Tony Knowles (D). Sturgulewski, who beat Hickel in the 1986 GOP primary but lost to retiring Gov. Steve Cowper (D), enlisted White House help in trying to keep Hickel out of the race, but a threatening phone call from Chief of Staff John H. Sununu only stiffened Hickel's determination. Hickel persuaded Sturgulewski's lieutenant-governor running mate to defect to his ticket and has managed to present himself as a conservative-populist opposing two liberals. Hickel is the only antiabortion candidate of the three and that issue has vied with traditional oil-development-environmental conflicts in the campaign. A series of polls shows Hickel running as much as 10 points ahead of his closely bunched rivals. ARIZONA

When Gov. Rose Mofford (D) decided to step down, Democrats did not have to look any farther than the Phoenix City Hall to find their candidate in Mayor Terry Goddard, a popular incumbent and son of former governor Sam Goddard (D). While Goddard breezed to nomination in September, real estate developer Fife Symington (R) had to get past controversial former governor Evan Mecham (R) and three others in the GOP primary. A political novice, Symington has managed to whittle away some of Goddard's early 17-point lead by hammering on the tax issue. But despite ads from Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan rallying Republicans, who outnumber Democrats in registration, Goddard seems likely to move down the street to the governor's office. CALIFORNIA

The No. 1 race in the country is tilting to the GOP. Sen. Pete Wilson (R) has opened a 7- to 9-point lead over former San Francisco mayor Dianne Feinstein (D) in the battle to succeed retiring Gov. George Deukmejian (R). Feinstein has been close to seizing command several times, but as one insider put it, when the economy softened and Washington actions raised tax-hike sensitivities, swing voters began to see her less as "the candidate of change" and more as the "candidate of risk." Feinstein remains within striking distance, but the Republicans have an edge in their turnout and absentee-voting operations.

After many years of gerrymandered stability, the state's big congressional delegation faces a possible shakeout. Five endangered incumbents and their challengers, in approximate order of risk, are: Rep. Charles J. "Chip" Pashayan Jr. (R), tagged with savings and loan ties, vs. farmer Calvin Dooley (D); Rep. Jim Bates (D), disciplined by the House for sexual harassment, vs. former Navy pilot Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R); Rep. George E. Brown Jr. (D), survivor of many close races, vs. San Bernardino County Supervisor Robert Hammock (R); Rep. Alfred A. McCandless (R), still little-known after four terms in a fast-growing district, vs. Ralph Waite (D), the actor who played Pa Walton on television; and Rep. Douglas H. Bosco (D), another with S&L links, vs. developer Frank Riggs (R).

In the district of retiring Rep. Norman D. Shumway (R), state Sen. John T. Doolittle (R) is favored over Patricia Malberg (D), who challenged in 1988 and kept right on running. The retirement of veteran Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D) opens a seat for state Rep. Maxine Waters (D), a longtime ally of Jesse L. Jackson. COLORADO

Despite hard times in the Rockies, Gov. Roy Romer (D) built such strong personal support in his first term that no real challenger emerged. John Andrews, the conservative think-tank founder who claimed the GOP nomination, made it easy for Romer by acknowledging his past participation in parapsychology experiments with mung bean plants. Today's Denver Post poll has Romer 28 points ahead.

Almost as comfortable is Rep. Hank Brown (R) of Greeley, handpicked successor to retiring two-term Sen. William L. Armstrong (R). The Post poll has Brown up 56 to 32 percent over Josie Heath (D), a former county commissioner from the liberal stronghold of Boulder, who has been hampered by the "Madam Mud" label Brown put on her after she sullied her opponent in the Democratic primary. Heath's shortage of funds and her opponent's mainstream conservatism have stymied her campaign.

Brown's strength gives state Sen. Wayne Allard (R), a veterinarian, an edge over state Rep. Dick Bond (D) for the vacant House seat. HAWAII

Gov. John D. Waihee III (D) has no second-term problems from state Rep. Fred Hemmings (R), a onetime world surfing champion. Republicans are putting all their resources into Rep. Patricia F. Saiki's campaign against Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D), her House colleague until Waihee appointed him to replace the late senator Spark M. Matsunaga (D) last April. Saiki, a second-termer, broke the Democratic dominance of Hawaiian politics by dint of her energy and personality, and those qualities have made the race with the conscientious but stolid Akaka extremely close. Pollsters say the key lies among the undecided Japanese Americans, torn between their normal Democratic affiliation and their affection for Saiki, who shares their ethnic background. The Democratic organization may give Akaka, a native Hawaiian, a slight edge, but a Saiki victory would be no surprise.

Rep. Patsy Mink (D) should repeat her September special-election victory in Akaka's old district, and Democrats are favored to pick up the Saiki seat, where former representative Neil Abercrombie (D), a slightly reformed 1960s protest politician, is favored over state Rep. Mike Liu (R). IDAHO

After all the furor over his veto of strict antiabortion legislation, Gov. Cecil D. Andrus (D) has had no difficulty in his reelection effort against state Senate Majority Leader Roger Fairchild (R). By 1994, Andrus, an Idaho institution, will have been governor for 16 of the past 24 years.

An orderly Senate succession has been arranged, with retiring Sen. James A. McClure (R) handing office to Rep. Larry E. Craig (R), a fellow conservative, who is comfortably ahead of Ron Twilegar (D), a veteran Boise officeholder. Craig's House district is another story, however: Stockbroker Larry LaRocco (D), who came close against Craig in 1982, is in a tight race with state Sen. C.A. "Skip" Smyser (R), who lacks a Boise base and has an antiabortion position that may cost him votes. Craig will run strongly here, but LaRocca, who mixes a conservative anti-foreign aid message into his populism, could win in a district that has been Republican for 26 years. MONTANA

After his colleague, John Melcher (D), was upset for reelection in 1988 by Republican Conrad Burns, Sen. Max Baucus (D) got busier than ever raising money and getting home to Big Sky country in preparation for his 1990 campaign. Meanwhile, Republicans tried to convince three different candidates that Baucus was ripe for the taking, before Lt. Gov. Allen C. Kolstad agreed to make the race. Turns out the others knew what they were doing. Baucus is headed for an easy third-term win. NEVADA

The role reversals are as startling as if Jerry Tarkanian grew a full head of hair. The Republican candidate for governor, businessman Jim Gallaway, favors reducing marijuana use from a felony to a misdemeanor and keeping abortion legal, while the Democrat, acting Gov. Robert J. Miller, wants to keep pot-smoking felonious and severely restrict abortion rights. The two are also sparring on taxes and nuclear-waste dumping sites, but the contest is not close. Miller, a former Las Vegas district attorney, moved up from lieutenant governor in 1989, when Gov. Richard H. Bryan (D) was elected to the Senate. He is well-known and well-liked, and his challenger has lived in the state only two years. Polls give Miller a 2-to-1 lead. NEW MEXICO

He's back -- and New Mexico Republicans still don't know what to do about him. Bruce King (D) has run for governor twice -- in 1970 and 1978 -- and twice he has won. When the mandatory retirement of Gov. Garrey E. Carruthers (R) opened the office again this year, King, 66, decided it was his time again. Businessman Frank Bond (R) argues against turning back the clock, plugs his skill in Spanish and raps King for leniency in granting pardons. But polls show King's magic still working well enough to produce a narrow lead.

Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R) made the mistake of running against King 20 years ago, but this year he is a lock to continue a Senate career that began in 1972. State Sen. Tom R. Benavides (D), his opponent, is a three-time loser in statewide races. OREGON

When Gov. Neil Goldschmidt (D) dropped the bombshell news that he was retiring after one term, the way seemed clear for his already announced challenger, Attorney General Dave Frohnmayer (R), to claim the job. But it isn't working out that way. Despite her late start and financial disadvantage, Secretary of State Barbara Roberts (D) has out-campaigned her opponent. An antiabortion third-party candidate, Al Mobley, is draining enough support from Frohnmayer (who supports abortion rights) to make the difference in what might otherwise be a dead-even race.

The alarm bells rang three weeks ago for veteran Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R), when polls showed businessman and first-time candidate Harry Lonsdale (D) exploiting anti-incumbent sentiment and Hatfield's antiabortion, pro-lumber industry stands to make the icon of Oregon politics suddenly look like a 68-year-old has-been. But Hatfield rushed home, turned over the reelection effort to the more campaign-hardened staff of Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.), approved his first negative ads and clearly has turned the race around to the point he is the favorite.

Nothing seems likely to save Rep. Denny Smith (R) in his rematch with former state representative Mike Kopetski (D), who failed by only 707 votes in 1988. Since then, Smith has been weakened by reports of his savings and loan ties and targeted assaults from environmental and abortion-rights groups. UTAH

Rep. Wayne Owens (D), one of the few incumbents in a competitive district to support the Washington budget agreement, has been attacked for his stand by challenger Genevieve Atwood (R), a geologist and former state representative. This is a Republican-leaning district, but Owens, who first won the seat back in 1972 and reclaimed it in 1986, has survived challenges as tough as this one before. In the more heavily Republican 3rd District, retiring Republican Rep. Howard C. Nielson's handpicked successor, former state senator Karl Snow, described as a moderate Republican, is a favorite over Provo attorney Bill Orton (D). WASHINGTON

The key race -- and one of the most hotly contested in the country -- pits freshman Rep. Jolene Unsoeld (D) against former state representative Bob Williams (R), an accountant and evangelical Christian. The traditional liberal-conservative race, which has focused on taxes and on the environmental dispute over logging and the spotted owl, took an unexpected twist when Unsoeld opposed restrictions on semiautomatic assault rifles and accepted a $5,000 contribution from the National Rifle Association. Having won by only 618 votes in 1988, she cannot afford any defections in her liberal base. House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) has weighed in to try to protect her, but she remains a slight underdog. WYOMING

If you want to prove there's an anti-incumbent tide rolling, skip Wyoming. The only wager in Cheyenne bars is which officeholder will get the biggest margin this year. Sure, the economy has been dragging, but the folks at home think these are three great guys -- Gov. Mike Sullivan (D), Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R) and freshman Rep. Craig Thomas (R). Their opponents, respectively, are Mary Meade (R), Kathy Helling (D) and Pete Maxfield (D). A tip: Bet on Meade to make the best showing. She's the daughter of former governor and senator Clifford P. Hansen (R).