One of the bright spots in the continuing fallout from the Gary Hart debacle is that Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), who had been a cochairman of his campaign, is now free to consider a run for the presidency on her own. And she is doing just that.

In 1984, when Geraldine Ferraro made history by being the first female vice presidential candidate of a major party, Schroeder said that "women have to run like men do. We have to run for president." In a recent interview, she said that after Hart pulled out, "I had people who came to me and said, 'Hart's out. Now you have no excuse . . . . And remember what you said.' I have to look at it seriously." She told The Associated Press there are "just an awful lot of things that I could contribute that aren't being said."

Schroeder, who was first elected in 1972, is the senior woman in Congress, and has served two terms longer than Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), one of seven Democrats who have announced their candidacies. Schroeder serves on the House Armed Services Committee; the Post Office and Civil Service Committee, where she chairs the Civil Service Subcommittee, the Judiciary Committee; and the Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families. As one of seven deputy majority whips, she is in charge of bringing arms control legislation to the floor and getting it passed.

She is a sharp critic of excessive defense spending. She has called defense contractors the welfare queens of the '80s, at the same time championing the cause of military families. In the past two sessions of Congress, she helped pass the Military Family Acts, defense authorization bills that provide for increased reimbursement for moving expenses, helping spouses obtain employment and other support services. In 1984, she was named Patriot of the Year by the Jacksonville Naval Air Station.

Schroeder was the key player in rewriting the country's pension laws so divorced spouses could stake a claim in their partners' pensions as part of property settlements. Pension reform efforts began when she proposed changes to benefit spouses of civil service employes. She made that case for Foreign Service wives who had traveled extensively with their husbands and thus had been unable to establish careers and pensions of their own while contributing to their husbands' careers. This argument was later extended to secure pension sharing for the spouses of military and CIA personnel who get divorced. These changes in federal pension rules laid the groundwork for 1984 revisions in private pension systems so that private pensions would be considered in property settlements.

She helped write and pass the 1978 Ethics Act, as well as legislation allowing the federal government to start flexitime, to hire more part-time workers, and the Civil Service Reform Act that included protection for whistleblowers. She introduced legislation later passed by the House to help communities set up child care programs before and after school.

Schroeder will be traveling to Iowa, where she has strong ties, and to New Hampshire during the next two weeks.

To be eligible for federal matching funds, she needs to raise $5,000 in each of 20 states in contributions of $250 or less. However, printed estimates have put the cost of winning the nomination at $20 million.

Rep. Barbara Kennelly (D-Conn.) says she has been encouraging Schroeder to "think about it very positively. I still feel that we're never going to have a woman president unless we have a woman out there in Iowa and New Hampshire. She could be a very fine pioneer. We have to eventually have it seem very normal for women to run and it's never going to be very normal unless we have a woman out there running. The first step is getting the matching funds. It takes organization, and that's where women could be very supportive."

The bet here is that they'd be more receptive to a woman candidate now than anyone might imagine.