In December, then-U.S. trade representative Reubin Askew dropped out of sight, leterally, when a reporter asked him if he might run for the presidency.

Seated behind a table on stage at the University of Tampa, Askew leaned forward to answer. Just as he said "No," the chair slipped from under him and Askew fell to his knees.

"But don't count me out," the smiling former Florida governor finished as he regained his seat.

Eight months later, Askew, 52, appears to be on his way to counting himself in.

He says he is giving "very serious consideration to seeking the Democratic presidential nomination" in 1984 and has found the process "very encouraging" so far.

Askew, who returned to law practice in Miami the first of the year, has been traveling out of state making speeches while friends in Miami research election laws and issues for him.

"It's very preliminary," said Jim Bacchus, a lawyer and aide in Miami.

He has picked up one endorsement, though, from Florida Gov. Bob Graham. Graham had been rumored to be interested in the '84 race himself, but he quickly promised to support Askew if he becomes a candidate.

Askew served as special trade ambassador for over a year under President Carter, succeeding Robert S. Strauss. Earlier Carter picked Askew to head the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy.

A non-smoking, non-drinking Presbyterian with a reputation for scrupulous honesty, Askew earned the nickname "Reubin the Good" during his eight years as Florida governor.

From 1971 through 1978 he successuflly led fights to enact a state corporate income tax, to pass a "Sunshine Amendment" to the state constitution requiring public officers to file net worth statements and to defeat a proposal that would have legalized casino gambling.

As governor, Askew defended busing as necessary to achieve integration. He put his career on the line in his first term when he crossed the state urging Floridians to vote "No" on a straw vote question outlawing busing.

The voters in his conservative state instead shouted "Yes" by 3 to 1, but they respected his willingness to take an unpopular stand, Askew said. His popularity grew and he was reelected overwhelmingly to a second term.

Environmentalists considered him a strong friend and reformists hailed him for taking state judgeships out of the political patronage system.

National politics flirted with Askew in 1972, when he delivered the keynote address to the Democratic National Convention and Sen. George McGovern, the party's presidential nominee, tried to lure him onto the ticket.

But Askew resisted then and in 1976, when he was mentioned as a possible presidential candidate.

"We didn't need to go from a pond to an ocean so quickly," explained Askew's wife, Donna Lou.

But after his stints in Tallahassee and Washington, Askew sounded ready to wade in.

Before leaving, he said the work of negotiating trade agreements with other nations had "opened up new worlds for me" as to how world economy operates.