Ah, the problems of the hired guns. A survey of political consultants released this week shows that a majority of them acknowledge they are sorry about some of the candidates they helped elect.

James A. Thurber, director of American University's Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, said the survey of 505 campaign consultants underscores the growing "professionalism" of the political trade. Consultants are talking pretty much the way lawyers do about their guilty clients. And that, he figures, is a healthy development.

The primary reason that consultants were disillusioned about their winning clients: "They didn't keep their campaign promises," Thurber said.

The study, funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, came up with one finding that Thurber, a political scientist, said he found disturbing. "The consultants have proclaimed the end of political parties. They say they are providing all the services that political parties used to provide."

Not surprisingly, the consultants, mostly well-educated white men who are about 46 years old, have a high opinion of themselves. "They believe that campaigns can't succeed without them and their very expensive services," Thurber said. Those services give consultants a median income of $102,000, and one in five earns $200,000 or more, the survey found. But most say political beliefs--not money--motivated them to enter the profession.

They worry about unethical practices, which 24 percent said occur very or fairly often. The main problem: negative campaigning.

Then there is what Thurber might call the consultant's paradox. As he put it: "They believe the public is not well informed on political issues, but that the public makes wise choices at the ballot box." Go figure.

Forbes Challenges Bush on Taxes

Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes has managed to draw Texas Gov. George W. Bush into a mini-debate on the hot-button issue of taxes, but it's not clear who will emerge on top.

The battle began Wednesday when Forbes, the magazine publisher and flat-tax advocate, put out a statement saying Bush had tried to raise 75 separate taxes in his 1997 budget. Forbes said the governor, who leads the polls for the GOP presidential nomination, had broken his pledge to Texas voters--casting doubt on the validity of his promise to veto higher rates if he becomes president.

Bush responded Thursday that Forbes was distorting the record by failing to point out that Bush had called for a tax swap that meant a net reduction of about $1 billion. He proposed cutting property taxes by $3 billion, trimming state spending, boosting the sales tax a half-cent and instituting a business activities tax. The legislature rejected the major changes but did give Bush a $1 billion property tax cut.

Forbes's list of 75 tax increases was based on a compilation by Americans for Tax Reform that listed separately each type of enterprise that would have been subject to the business activities tax.

Bush on Thursday reiterated his claim that "I've signed the two largest tax cuts in state history." As for Forbes's call for an early debate among the GOP candidates, "he's just trying to get in the news," Bush said of Forbes. And he has done just that.

Quotable

Elizabeth Dole, in New York raising money for her GOP presidential bid, commented on the Senate race in that state: "Let me just say that the next senator, whoever he may be, I will look forward to working with him," Dole told reporters in New York City, smiling as she emphasized the words "he" and "him."

"I will look forward to coming back to New York to campaign for this man."

Staff writer David S. Broder contributed to this report.