Virginia Sen. John H. Chichester (R-Fredericksburg), the man who took the Equal Rights Amendment down to defeat in the state Senate today, has been mentioned among high-level Republicans here as a possible candidate for statewide office.

"He's a likeable guy, a real person you might say," said Anson Franklin, an aide to Republican Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman and a GOP startegist. "You hear it in the Republican chatter around here. Marshall sees the potential for it."

Many ERA backers in Richmond, bristling over Chichester's successful assault on the constitutional measure, bitterly claimed his abstention was a blatant publicity grab by a senator with an otherwise undistinguished legislative career.

But Chichester, a small-town insurance man in his second year as a state senator, denied he was seeking higher office -- although he did not rule it out. "I don't think partisan politics should enter into questions of this kind," he said, pointing out that he publicly proclaimed his opposition to ERA during two Senate campaigns and that he represents a district strongly against the measure.

Some friends and foes agreed that Chichester possesses personal attributes prized by potential vote-getters: youth, good looks, intelligence and charm.

"I don't know anything especially distinguished about him except that he's young and attractive and ambitious," said Judy Goldberg, the Richmond lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Some legislative colleagues of Chichester said that the freshman seantor's charming personality is his only distinguishing mark.

"He's not a doer -- he doesn't have a real program, other than anti-ERA and protecting his constituents," said one lawmaker. "He's a coaster, like a lot of them -- taking care of the home folks and coming down for the winter watering."

Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell, an Alexandria Republican who defended Chichester's action today on the Senate floor, said the senator from Fredericksburg has been as active as any other freshman in the General Assembly.

Bills sponsored by Chichester include measures to strengthen parole eligibility requirements and increase state penalties for child abusers.

Chichester is "reasonable and rational in his approach to things," said Mitchell, adding that the lawmaker, a personal friend, would probably have made an excellent state GOP candidate last year if he had chosen to put himself in the running. Chichester resisted overtures from party regulars last May, saying he wanted to devote his time to the Senate.

"He's a pragmatist -- not an idealogue," said Mitchell. "He doesn't go jumping off cliffs just to make a point. He knows how to get things done."

And Mitchell, who voted for passage of the ERA today, added: "I didn't know in advance what John planned to do [today] . . . If I had, I probably would have tried to talk him out of it."