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How big a mid-course correction?; A Sunbelt setback for the GOP

Democrats in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana have come a long way since 1980. Two years ago, divided Democrats saw party support dip as some backers switched to Republican ranks and many others simply stayed away from the polls. Democrats and Republicans have been warning or boasting of a Sunbelt swing to the Republican Party.

Despite rising unemployment in the Southwest, Republicans here hoped to maintain the 1980 momentum and gain ground, to offset expected Republican losses in Northern states.

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Texas was a particularly bright hope this year. Along with other gains, Republican candidates were listed ahead of Democrats on Texas ballots for the first time in over a century because the state has had a Republican governor for the past four years.But Gov. William Clements lost decisively to Democrat Mark White. One reason: Democrats came to the polls in such numbers that some Dallas and Houston precincts ran out of ballots.

In the Senate race in Texas, Democratic incumbent Lloyd Bentsen won even more decisively over US Rep. James Collins. Instead of picking up new House seats, Texas Republicans held their five but saw the Democrats increase from 19 to 22 seats in the new, redistricted Congress.

The sharpest GOP disappointment centers on New Mexico, where incumbent Sen. Harrison Schmitt lost to Democrat Jeff Bingaman, and the Democrats captured the state's new third House seat. Arkansas saw its governorship pass from incumbent Frank White (R) to former Gov. Bill Clinton (D).

Two key House Democrats from the Southwest, majority leader Jim Wright of Texas and budget committee chairman James Jones of Oklahoma, go back to Washington with a stronger Democratic base. Conservative Democrats such as Texas Reps. Phil Gramm and Kent Hance go back to a House where ''boll weevil'' support for President Reagan and Reaganomics will be more crucial due to GOP losses.

Some Texas GOP leaders warn of possible stalematewhen the Republican White House and Senate confront the House's strengthened Democratic majority. But Senator Bentsen says his post-election message is that ''if we are to end the recession and get our country back on track, it will require the highest degree of cooperation within the government and among business and labor and government.''

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