Clinton was asked to teach about the Arkansas Criminal Code during the 1976 spring term. The Arkansas Bar Association had entirely rewritten the state's Criminal Code in 1974 and 1975. Bill Clinton tackled the topic head-on and made the detailed new code comprehensible to his students. Topics ranged from victims rights to interpreting rules of evidence and the insanity defense.
Over 25 police officers took his course, driving in from all over the state to hear this brilliant and engaging professor.
Attorney General Jim Guy Tucker, who was leaving the post to run for Congress, had convinced Clinton to run for attorney general. Clinton officially filed as a candidate on April 1, 1976. He supported a number of significant legal reform initiatives during the campaign, including work release opportunities for Arkansas prisoners, laws to compensate crime victims, the appointment of an ombudsman to settle complaints about state government, and stronger consumer and antitrust efforts.
Clinton supported compensating crime victims for their losses, telling voters that governments, “house, clothe, and feed the convict, while we forget about the victim. Nothing is done to replace the property or pay the medical expenses of the innocent citizens who are victimized by criminals.”
During the campaign, Clinton reminded his audience that politics is a high calling. “I am committed to the proposition that politics can be an honorable and important work,” he said. "Without good politicians, we cannot have the kind of society that we want and need.”
In the Democratic primary in May 1976, Clinton triumphed over his two opponents with more than 55 percent of the vote. His opponents were Clarence Cash and George Jernigan. Cash claimed that the issues that separated himself from the other candidates were his experience and his conservatism. Jernigan was an aide to Gov. Orval E. Faubus during the latter part of Faubus’ administrations, was a law clerk to Associate Justice John A. Fogelman of the Arkansas Supreme Court, and served in the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps. He was a private practitioner since 1967.
Clinton accepted Jimmy Carter’s request that he manage the Carter Arkansas campaign. He declined Carter's request to manage the Texas campaign because it would interfere with his teaching and preparations to take office in the fall. Clinton’s previous campaign experience included a coordinator position for the Sen. George S. McGovern's pre-nomination campaign in Arkansas and Texas in 1972. Clinton also had intimate knowledge of campaigning in Arkansas from his two successful Democratic nomination campaigns and unsuccessful 1974 campaign. Since no Republican had filed for the position, Clinton was unopposed in the general election and therefore won unanimously.
The attorney general's office was staffed by a 30-year-old attorney general and an equally young staff. There was only a staff of 10 and they put in an average of 60-75 hours per week.
During his two years as state attorney general, Clinton became noted for his pro-consumer and anti-utility views. He pushed for a tougher ethics law, one which would apply to elected and appointed officials alike, and which would place more stringent reporting standards on lobbyists. He also fulfilled his campaign promise to expand work release programs for prisoners in order to reduce prison overcrowding. An August 1977 editorial in the Arkansas Gazette praised Clinton for being a stout champion of the Arkansas consumer, but, even more importantly… a champion of individual rights against arbitrary government.