Democrats began to rebuild their southern base, trimming some of the losses they sustained during the Reagan years and solidifying their control on virtually all of the state legislatures that will create new districts for the added House seats that a decade of growth will bring to the Sun Belt.

Democratic candidates recaptured governorships in Florida, Texas and Oklahoma and, with a victory in Northern Virginia, took control of the Virginia congressional delegation for the first time in 24 years.

Some of the region's top Republican conservatives -- North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms, Georgia Rep. Newt Gingrich, South Carolina Gov. Carroll A. Campbell Jr. and Alabama Gov. Guy Hunt -- showed that the GOP remains a credible force in the region, winning reelection in a number of contested races. Hunt, the first Republican governor in Alabama since 1874, remained in office in the face of a Democratic sweep of most state offices.

"If you start with the Texas situation, it is almost a Democratic sweep," said Max Sherman, dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. Sherman cited the Democratic gubernatorial victories in Texas, Oklahoma, Florida and Georgia as proof that the Democratic Party in the South "is like a tap root. You think it's dead, but it's alive."

Democrats suffered some surprising losses, including the ouster of Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower, a folksy populist who had gained national attention for his efforts to regulate the state's huge agricultural industry.

The elections reinforced the Democrats' lock on state legislatures in the South. They control the statehouses in Florida, which is expected to gain four House seats as a result of the 1990 census, and Texas, which will probably add three.

"You have to be careful when you say one party has taken the torch from the other, but the momentum in the South is clearly with the Democrats," Del Ali, an analyst with Mason-Dixon Opinion Research, told the Associated Press. "The Democrats have done something they've been unable to do in 12 years and that is steal an issue from under the Republicans."

The issue was taxes, and analysts said it was a key factor in the defeat of Republican Florida Gov. Bob Martinez and Clayton Williams, the millionaire GOP nominee for governor of Texas, who acknowledged last week that he paid no taxes in 1986.

"For all the frustration the voters have had about negative campaigning, I think that the Democrats were dealing with the issues that people were dealing with," Sherman said. ALABAMA

Republican Gov. Guy Hunt, who four years ago ended the Democrats' 112-year lock on the governor's office, was an easy winner over liberal Democrat Paul Hubbert, former head of the Alabama Education Association.

Hunt, a narrow favorite, did nothing to energize opponents and there was no appearance of an anti-incumbent vote to counter the governor's effort to portray Hubbert as a liberal lobbyist linked to Jesse L. Jackson and Walter F. Mondale.

Sen. Howell T. Heflin, a two-term conservative Democrat, easily fended off a poorly financed challenge by state Sen. Bill Cabaniss (R), wining 61 percent of the vote.

Huntsville prosecutor Bud Cramer (D) overwhelmed state Agriculture Commissioner Albert McDonald, who recently became a Republican, winning two-thirds of the vote. ARKANSAS

Gov. Bill Clinton, whose national star slipped badly after his uneven performance at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, seems to have retained substantial popularity among the voters in his home state. The 44-year-old Clinton, governor for 10 of the past 12 years, had no trouble defeating businessman and first-time candidate Sheffield Nelson.

Nelson, hurt by a bruising Republican primary, won 43 percent of the vote.

Democratic Sen. David Pryor had no opposition in his bid for a third term, and there were no close races for congressional seats, with incumbents Bill Alexander (D), John Paul Hammerschmidt (R) and Beryl F. Anthony Jr. (D) coasting to easy wins. Former representative Ray Thornton (D), as expected, easily reclaimed the Little Rock House seat he vacated in 1978. FLORIDA

The emotional issue of abortion played an important role in several races in Florida, officials from the two major parties said, but it was unclear just how significant it was in yesterday's voting.

Abortion-rights groups were elated by former senator Lawton Chiles's victory over Republican incumbent Gov. Bob Martinez, saying it was due in part to a reaction to Martinez's highly publicized move to hold a special session of the legislature to restrict abortion rights. The legislature did not pass any curbs on abortion, however.

Antiabortion groups also failed in an effort to oust state Supreme Court Chief Justice Leander Shaw, the first black high-court justice in state history. Shaw, who wrote a decision striking down a Florida law requiring parental consent before minors could obtain an abortion, easily turned back an effort by abortion opponents to oust him, winning by 59 percent to 41 percent.

On the other hand, freshman Rep. Craig T. James (R), the No. 1 House target of abortion-rights groups, handily beat self- financed Democratic businessman Reid Hughes by 56 percent to 44 percent in a race that both parties had rated a tossup.

Florida Republicans were heartened by the overwhelming victory of freshman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who last year filled the seat of the late Rep. Claude Pepper (D). Ros-Lehtinen won 60 percent of the vote in what had been a solidly Democratic district.

Democrat Pete Peterson, an Air Force retiree, crushed GOP Rep. Bill Grant, 57 percent to 43 percent. Before the election, political analysts had predicted that Grant, who switched parties last year, was being hurt by Martinez's weak showing in his Panhandle district and was vulnerable.

Florida voters, in a closely watched battle over gun control, overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state constitution that would require a three-day waiting period, excluding weekends and holidays, for all retail handgun sales.

Florida lawmakers, stymied by the gun lobby in Tallahassee, had been unable to pass a law to end what gun control advocates call the state's "cash-and-carry" gun trade. GEORGIA

The razor-thin victory of House Minority Leader Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in what was supposed to be a safe GOP district that stretches from the Atlanta suburbs to the Alabama border stunned many politicians and analysts in the state.

"It was a referendum on Newt," said Claibourne Darden, an Atlanta political commentator. "The point isn't that Newt was reelected. The point is that Newt came as near to as possible being defeated by an ill-directed campaign."

Democrat David Worley, a Harvard-educated lawyer, lost to Gingrich by about 1,000 votes.

Democrats did claim a number of expected statehouse victories, picking up three seats in the House and easily winning the governor's office, which they have controlled since Reconstruction.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Zell Miller, the state's No. 2 officeholder for 16 years, defeated Republican Johnny Isakson in a race in which each candidate accused the other of having a racist past. Miller, once an aide to former governor Lester Maddox, a segregationist, will succeed Gov. Joe Frank Harris, who served the maximum two terms.

Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) faced no opposition for his fourth term, and all the incumbent House members won reelection, including former actor Ben Jones, a freshman who was expected to be seriously challenged for the House seat he took from the GOP two years ago. Doug Barnard Jr., who was criticized for financial ties to indicted savings and loan kingpin Charles H. Keating Jr., also won reelection.

Voters also endorsed a state constitutional amendment favored by environmentalists that should help preserve more woodlands. The measure will allow trees to be taxed at their full value when harvested rather than as they grow. KENTUCKY

Freshman Sen. Mitch McConnell, one of the Republicans who was believed vulnerable if the anti-incumbency wave kept rolling, easily won his second term. But the incumbent who had a difficult time was Democrat Rep. Carl C. Perkins, who sought to hold onto a House seat that has been in the Perkins family for more than 40 years.

Perkins, 36, the son of Carl D. Perkins, who represented eastern Kentucky for 36 years, appeared to have eked out a 2,000-vote victory over Republican William T. "Will" Scott, a former circuit court judge.

Perkins, who succeeded his father in 1984, blamed his troubles on anti-incumbent sentiment that his staff said defeated a number of state legislators in the district. Scott, whose campaign was aided by news accounts that raised questions about Perkins's personal life and finances, had not conceded yesterday and was reported to be considering seeking a recount.

McConnell, who had raised a large campaign warchest, defeated former Jefferson County executive Harvey J. Sloane (D) by 52 percent to 48 percent.

Louisville's 10-term House member, Romano L. Mazzoli (D), easily turned back a challenge by black Republican Al Brown, winning 61 percent to 39 percent.

Turnout was larger than expected and politicians said it was fueled by a state constitutional amendment sought by church groups. The measure, which prohibits taxing of church property or assets, was approved by a lopsided margin.

Democrats retained control of the state legislature but lost four seats in the House and three in the Senate. LOUISIANA

All but one of Louisiana's elections were decided during the Oct. 6 all-parties primary in which Sen. J. Bennett Johnston Jr. (D) and all House incumbents were reelected. That left only the open seat of Rep. Lindy Boggs (D), who is retiring from a majority-black New Orleans district that she or her late husband, Hale, have represented since 1940.

As expected, state Sen. William Jefferson, a Harvard-educated lawyer, won a narrow victory, defeating another black Democrat, attorney Marc H. Morial, the son of the former mayor of New Orleans, by 51 percent to 49 percent.

Jefferson will become the first black to represent Louisiana since Reconstruction. MISSISSIPPI

The closest any member of the Mississippi congressional delegation came to losing was Rep. Jamie L. Whitten (D), the 80-year-old chairman of the House Appropriations Committee who was first elected to the House in 1941. Whitten got 65 percent of the vote, almost the same percentage as his 1988 victory over another token GOP opponent.

Republican Shelia Smith failed to win the seat her husband, Larkin Smith, was holding when he died in a 1989 airplane crash. Democrat Gene Taylor, a former state senator who won the seat in a special election, handily defeated her, winning 81 percent of the vote to Smith's 19 percent.

Republican Sen. Thad Cochran (R) was unopposed for his third term. NORTH CAROLINA

Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) easily defeated former Charlotte mayor Harvey Gantt (D) in one of the country's bitterest and nastiest Senate campaigns. The unexpectedly large turnout may have helped defeat freshman Rep. James McClure Clarke, one of the state's eight Democratic House members.

Helms, who won by 53 percent to 47 percent, appeared to have been boosted in the final days by his advertising campaign, which protrayed Gantt as a champion of homosexuals and liberals and an advocate of the recent civil rights legislation vetoed by President Bush.

Clarke, the only member of the state's 11-member House delegation to lose, represented the mountainous 11th District around Asheville -- a district known as the state's "revolving door" because it changed parties repeatedly during the 1980s. This year Clarke appeared to have lost by about 2,100 votes the seat he had won by 1,529 votes two years ago. The victor was former state representative Charles H. Taylor, who Clarke defeated in 1988.

Voters narrowly approved a $200 million prison bond referendum supported by Gov. James G. Martin (R), whose name was not on the ballot. Two of three Democratic state Supreme Court justices, however, survived a vigorous challenge by a slate of GOP judicial candidates that the governor backed. The race for one court seat was too close to call yesterday.

Democrats improved their control of the legislature, gaining eight seats in the state House of Representatives but losing two in the state Senate. OKLAHOMA

There were no surprises in Oklahoma, where Democratic Sen. David L. Boren brushed aside a lame challenge from Republican attorney Stephen Jones, winning 83 percent of the vote.

Two-term GOP Rep. James M. Inhofe appeared for a time to be vulnerable in a rematch with Tulsa attorney Kurt G. Glassco, but Inhofe pulled 56 percent of the vote. Democrats easily retained a seat vacated by Rep. Wes Watkins, with state Rep. Bill Brewster crushing Republican Patrick K. Miller by 80 percent to 20 percent. SOUTH CAROLINA

Republican Gov. Carroll A. Campbell Jr. may have positioned himself to succeed Sen. Strom Thurmond by outpolling the state's senior Republican. Campbell, seeking his second term as the state's chief executive, pulled 71 percent of the vote over his Democratic opponent, black state Sen. Theo Mitchell.

That put Campbell's total vote well ahead of the 66 percent that Thurmond, 87, drew in his race against Democrat Bob Cunningham, who had run for state office twice before as a Republican. Thurmond is the senior member of the Senate and has been a fixture in the state's politics for five decades.

Only two of the state's four Democratic House members faced opposition and they won easy reelection, as did the state's two Republicans. TENNESSEE

For a state used to old-fashioned political brawls, Tennessee produced nothing but yawners this time, with the closest race won by 14 points.

Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D) got 70 percent of the vote in his race against Knoxville economist William R. Hawkins. Incumbent Gov. Ned McWherter cruised to a 62 percent to 38 percent win over Republican Dwight Henry. And Rep. Harold E. Ford (D), awaiting retrial on bank and mail fraud charges, got 65 percent of the vote in defeating 79-year-old real estate agent Aaron C. Davis. TEXAS

Democrats reclaimed the state's historically Democratic governorship with state Treasurer Ann Richards's defeat of Republican rancher-businessman Clayton Williams and retained their overwhelming hold on the legislature in a state that is expected to gain three new congressional seats when 1990 census figures are complete.

But the Democrats' victory was tempered by the stunning upset of Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower, a populist who held the job since 1982. Hightower, who was the highest-ranking elected official to back the presidential candidacy of Jesse L. Jackson, was narrowly defeated by state Rep. Rick Perry, a West Texas rancher.

Perry, putting the GOP in control of the commissioner's office for the first time, ran a multimillion-dollar campaign largely funded by agribusiness and chemical industry lobbies and outspent the two-term incumbent by about 2 to 1.

Republicans also won the state treasurer's office, Richards's old job, for the first time, as Dallas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison beat Houston Democrat Nikki Van Hightower. As expected, Republican Sen. Phil Gramm coasted to an easy 62 percent to 38 percent win over his Democratic challenger, state Sen. Hugh Parmer.

Democrats also posted important wins in state races, with state Comptroller Bob Bullock defeating Houston Republican Rob Mosbacher, son of Commerce Secretary Robert A. Mosbacher, for the job of lieutenant governor. State Rep. Dan Morales, a moderate Democrat from San Antonio, became the first Hispanic attorney general. The 34-year-old Harvard-trained lawyer defeated GOP state Rep. J.E. "Buster" Brown from Lake Jackson. VIRGINIA

Six-term Rep. Stan Parris (R) was upset by Alexandria Mayor James P. Moran Jr. (D), giving Democrats a majority of the state's House delegation for the first time since 1966.

Tidewater area Rep. Herbert H. Bateman of Newport News survived a surprisingly strong challenge from former television reporter Andy Fox (D). The state's eight other incumbent House members were easily reelected.

Moran's victory and Bateman's narrow escape were more bad news for Virginia Republicans, who have had little else during the past decade. Although GOP Sen. John W. Warner was reelected without a Democratic challenger, he is the only Republican to win a statewide race in Virginia since 1982.

Parris's loss gave the Democrats six of the state's 10 House seats, leading some analysts to suggest that the results indicate that the GOP may have moved too far to the right and is having trouble attracting quality candidates.

Virginia Republicans "are clearly in trouble," said Mark J. Rozell, a political scientist at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg. "The public has the impression they have become captive to the ideological right. They need to turn this trend around before they end up with nothing."