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Budget Battle Sends Tremors Through GOP

Some Republicans are warning of a ballotbox disaster on election day, saying Bush has abandoned Reagan's rule of low taxes; political experts say that party infighting and splits should come as no surprise

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CLAYTON WILLIAMS, surrounded by a platoon of reporters and cameramen, met the challenge squarely: ``President Bush is my friend,'' said Mr. Williams, the GOP candidate for governor in Texas. ``I'm proud to have him in Texas campaigning for me.... I support the president.''

Williams's pledge of allegiance to his party's commander in chief would not ordinarily be news. But for budget-bruised, squabbling Republicans, these aren't ordinary times, and the next day, Williams's embrace of Mr. Bush was Page 1 material in Texas:

``Williams says Bush still has his support,'' declared a headline in the San Antonio Light.

Vice President Dan Quayle, interviewed on TV Wednesday night, admitted the White House had taken political damage during the budget fight.

``There's no doubt about it.... It's been a tough couple of weeks,'' he told an interviewer on PBS. But Quayle says that with Democrats in control of Congress, the president had only two alternatives: either ``govern by chaos,'' by letting automatic budget cuts take place, or ``get a budget'' that included higher taxes. ``It was not an easy choice,'' Mr. Quayle said.

Polls nose-dive

Many Republicans, however, worry that the tax decision, and Bush's apparent tilt toward rich taxpayers, could haunt them for months. Already, Bush's record-high popularity, once over 70 percent, has dipped to 59 percent.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found confidence in his handling of the economy shrank to only 35 percent who approved, while 55 percent disapproved.

As the president flies to several states, including Texas, for last-minute campaigning this weekend for congressional and gubernatorial candidates, some Republicans are keeping their distance, while others are warning of ballot box ``disaster'' on Tuesday.

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