White House director of public liaison Linda Chavez, who has been considering a bid for the U.S. Senate in Maryland, has retained former presidential adviser Edward Rollins as a political consultant, and a ranking state GOP leader said yesterday that he thinks she will enter the race.

"I'm certainly convinced she's going to run," said Allan Levey, chairman of the Maryland Republican Central Committee. Levey said he and two other party leaders had lunch with Chavez on Tuesday and came away convinced of her intention to seek the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr.

Rollins, who is a former White House political director and now a partner in a political consulting firm, confirmed that he is working with her.

But, he said, "she hasn't made a decision yet; she's talking to a lot of people. . . . I'm trying to explore to see if there's the support, if she can raise the money."

Chavez, a former Democrat who switched parties in April, could not be reached for comment.

Chavez, a Hispanic, is the White House's liaison with political constituencies and outside interest groups.

A former teacher and aide to American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker, Chavez also served as staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, where she generated controversy over her opposition to hiring quotas.

GOP leaders in Maryland are eager to find a credible candidate to fill the void left by the retirement of Mathias.

Outnumbered 3 to 1 in voter registration in the state, party leaders say they think they need a Republican of significant stature to attract attention and funds.

Rollins said that although Maryland is "a tough state" for any Republican, Chavez "brings a different base of support than most. She was a Democrat, she worked for a labor union. She can attract Jewish support." Her husband, Christopher Gersten, is a former political director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Asked whether Chavez, 37, might be considered too conservative for a state that has been represented in recent years by two liberal senators, Rollins said: "She's very typical of a lot of blue-collar Democrats who've changed parties: She's conservative on economic and foreign policy and moderate on social issues.

"I think she'd fit the voters of Maryland pretty well. She's certainly not a right-winger."