HIS CRUSADE BEGAN NOT WITH A BANG BUT with a hoarse whisper. Four years ago, Mississippi's attorney general took a phone call from an old law school buddy who was upset by the plight of a friend dying of smoking-related heart and lung disease. Michael Moore, 45, a Gulf Coast Catholic who had once considered becoming a priest, took action. Prompted by his pal's suggestion, Moore gathered 20 top lawyers, two world-class whistle-blowers and the attorneys general of 39 other states to join in a lawsuit to force the nation's cigarette makers to bear some of the cost of treating tobacco-related illnesses. Last June 20, in one of the biggest consumer rights coups since Ralph Nader sidelined the Chevrolet Corvair almost 30 years ago, the tobacco industry agreed to pay a staggering $368.5 billion to helpmates pay Medicaid. Although Congress hasn't yet approved the deal (some critics argue that it's not big enough), Moore, a conservative Democrat, already wears the aura of a political winner in Jackson—where he lives with his wife, Letitia, a homemaker, and son Kyle, 10—and beyond. "I think his motive was to aspire to higher office," Joe Colingo, a cigarette industry lawyer who tangled with Moore and lost, recently told the Los Angeles Times. For his part, Moore claims that he's content merely to be on the side of right. "We've been guided in this thing," he says. "We had some help from above."
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