WASHINGTON (AP) _ What's happening to the U.S. Senate. Apologies 3/8 Contrition 3/8 Remorse 3/8

It's not the courtly, nose-held-high Senate of old. Or is it.

Senators appear contrite and are expressing regret about their ugly, partisan fights and personal missteps, all magnified by the Clarence Thomas nomination battle.

Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy admitted he has ''personal shortcomings'' which he must confront. Wyoming Republican Alan Simpson says he's been ''a little too cocky, arrogant.''

Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., even apologized to his colleagues last week for being a ''pest.''

''Since we are all baring our souls, I know I have gotten on a lot of nerves for the last month or so, and I have not wanted to or meant to,'' responded Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who had apologized earlier for remarks he made about Kennedy.

It's almost a mea culpa chorus. But what may be sincere second-thinking also has a sound political basis.

''It works,'' said Ed DeBolt, a Republican political consultant. Ever since Watergate, most politicians have recognized the restorative value of confession, and the forgiving nature of the American electorate.

''It became conventional wisdom that if he (President Nixon) had been contrite and leveled with people'' instead of trying to ''tough it out,'' he would have finished his second term. ''You don't stonewall anymore,'' DeBolt said.

A senior Senate Democratic aide, who asked her name not be used because of her job, said she was ''not one who believes that these guys don't occasionally regret the way they've acted.'' But she said the pattern fit too neatly into a political face-saving strategy.

After confession, apology and making overwrought promises never to do something again, ''then you get the shot with the wife and kids to finish it off,'' she said.

The breadth of the Senate phenomenon matches the ''widespread public contempt and very focused anger toward these institutions,'' she said. ''They're trying to show they are not part of the institution by apologizing.''

For the most part, the expressions have been brief, nothing the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart would emulate.

And while it may be ''common wisdom'' that apologies are good politics, not everyone under the heat has felt the need.

Sen. Charles S. Robb, D-Va., hasn't followed the lead of Kennedy, who decided to deal with far more serious allegations of sexual improprieties by admitting he was human.

Robb denies claims by a former beauty queen that they had an affair in 1984 while he was governor and Kennedy, most recently, was present at the family home in West Palm Beach, Fla. when his nephew allegedly raped a 30-year-old woman who had joined them earlier in a drinking party at a local bar.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has responded with puzzlement toward those offended by his grilling of Thomas accuser Anita Hill.

''I did not understand I was coming across that way,'' said Specter, who accused Hill of perjury. ''I was very careful to be very polite and very professional,'' he told the Washington Post.