THIS IS the last week for the political managers to coach their candidates. It's tough for the incumbents to figure out what to say at the end of the campaign, particularly when it comes to budget legislation.
"OK, Senator, let's go over it again. If they ask you, you tell them that you don't agree with the budget bill, but you had to vote for it because it's the best deal you could get from the cutthroat Democrats.
"Then you should add, 'It's good to get away from Washington and talk to real people.' "
"Right, Harvey. How do I feel about the president?"
"Sick. You can't support the president on the budget because he went back on his promise not to raise taxes, even if he is the leader of the party of no new taxes."
"I can remember that, Harvey. Why did I vote for the budget in the first place?"
"Because it's the only one we could live with under the circumstances, and something that the liberals will have to take responsibility for when they lead us into a recession."
"Let me ask you this, Harvey. Was the bill too tough on the rich, not tough enough, or just right?"
"Too tough. The Democrats are always trying to sock it to the rich because they have more money than anyone else. But you have to say in your speeches that once they tax the rich, the opposition will want to tax the middle class and then the poor, and then the football fans. Your campaign must portray the rich as being just like everyone else."
"Is it too late to put that on bumper stickers?"
Harvey said, "Our polls indicate that no one likes the budget and the voter is blaming Congress for the mess we're in. We have got to put the blame on the ones who are really at fault."
"Who is that, Harvey?"
"The abortionists are responsible for the budget mess."
"Why not? Better them than us."
"The voters should respect me for that."
"Senator, I want you to tell the people how much belt-tightening we have to do to get our house in order. This means finding capital gains tax breaks for the guy in the street who wants to invest in America."
"Does that get votes?"
"No, but it gets contributions from those who would like the capital gains tax breaks."
"Why can't I say that the president wants the same things as I do?"
"You can, but I wish you wouldn't. Bush's popularity is sinking in the polls. There is no reason for you to bail him out at this stage."
"Harvey, am I for or against the excise taxes on smoking which I voted in favor of?"
"Tell the electorate that on odd days you will be for them, and on even days you will be against them. The smokers have vowed to defeat those who voted for the tax."
"They could be a problem, particularly if they are also joined by senior citizens who have promised to bury those members of Congress who've taxed their alcohol."
"Senator, we're in the home stretch and the people are fed up with everything. Our job is to make sure they understand that, although you voted for all the budget reforms, you don't believe in them any more than President Bush does when he's speaking at a Republican fund-raiser."