Politicians who have been in the debate spotlight say George Bush and Michael Dukakis should keep their answers short and simple and talk to their audience instead of each other in Sunday's presidential debate.

"Don't get bogged down in arguing about bill numbers and statistics," former Delaware Gov. Pete du Pont said.Both du Pont and Geraldine Ferraro, the Democratic vice presidential nominee who debated Bush in 1984, say he has improved with time.

"He's a whale of a lot better today than he was a year ago," du Pont said.

Ferraro concurred: "George Bush is a different person in 1988 from what he was in 1984."

Bush's problem four years ago was to avoid being a "bully" by coming on too strong against Ferraro or being seen as a "wimp" for not being forceful enough, she said.

"If I were Michael Dukakis, I would not be the least concerned about George Bush," she said.

But Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., who ran against and debated Dukakis in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, said the Massachusetts governor's style is low-key.

"He's not going to be a screamer and a shouter," Simon said. "He's not going to flail the air with his arms like Bush does."

Jesse Jackson told reporters in Chicago that Dukakis needs to be on the offensive during the debate.

"He has lots of material to go on the offensive with," Jackson said. "The message must be sharper, and the message is getting sharper."

Du Pont said Bush should stick to broad issues, such as patriotism, crime and the environment but "stay on the high ground."

Bush and Dukakis should use the 90-minute debate to leave the viewers with just a couple of easily understood messages, their former rivals said.

"In rough terms that's 45 minutes of free television time, half for you and half for the other guy. Use it," du Pont said.