Since leaving Capitol Hill 11 years ago, Eugene McCarthy has preferred being called a poet or author rather than "ex-senator." Now, if some people in Minnesota have their way, McCarthy might make a bid for his old title and Senate seat next year.

"I find my poetic muse is sort of intermittant," says McCarthy, "and a little interruption might revive it."

The little interruption is the idea of political supporters in Minnesota led by Karl Gruhn, president of a firm that manufactures carpet cleaning solution. Gruhn, who worked for McCarthy's failed bid for the presidency in 1968, thinks the time for McCarthy's intellectual brand of politics has returned. Last month he formed Citizens for McCarthy to explore that possibility.

"People look at him as a leader of the forces that don't believe in a tremendous arms build-up, and would rather see federal funds go for human services than building things like the MX missile," says Gruhn.

Three weeks ago McCarthy pressed the flesh for several days at Minnesota's state fair, which he says, "is sort of a ritual" before making a political bid. Gruhn says McCarthy was well received, that "there's a lot of warmth for him out there."

Whether there's sufficient warmth to persuade McCarthy to announce he's a Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party candidate for the Senate remains to be seen. A wealthy opponent, department store heir Mark Dayton, has already announced his intention to run. And the winner of the DFL primary will face popular Republican incumbent David Durenberger. Expect a McCarthy decision this fall.