BALTIMORE, SEPT. 24 -- Rep. Helen Delich Bentley (R-Md.) has recommended Baltimore County lawyer and Republican activist Richard D. Bennett to succeed Breckinridge L. Willcox as Maryland U.S. attorney.

A Bentley aide said today that Bennett, 43, long a favorite of Bentley's for the position, is under consideration by the Justice Department and could be nominated by President Bush and confirmed by the Senate late this year or early in 1991.

Bennett, who lost to Willcox for the top federal prosecutor's office in the state in 1986, appeared likely to win the nomination this time. Several other contenders were passed over by Bentley, sources said. As the ranking elected Republican in the state, she commands a receptive ear in the Bush administration when recommending nominees.

Willcox, of Potomac, edged out Bennett and lawyer Ty Cobb in 1986 when then-Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr., Maryland's senior GOP member in Congress, indicated that Willcox was his preference. Willcox had served as a Mathias aide in the 1970s. Mathias retired from the Senate in 1987.

Bennett, a lawyer in the Baltimore firm of Weaver, Bendos & Bennett, and longtime chairman of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee, declined to comment today on Bentley's recommendation. He was an assistant U.S. attorney in the Baltimore office from 1976 to 1981.

Maryland GOP leaders generally expressed approval of his recommendation. Bentley's legislative director, Christopher Griffin, said Bentley "has a lot of confidence in him."

"I support him 100 percent," said Joyce L. Terhes, head of the state GOP central committee.

Willcox's four-year term as U.S. attorney expired in June, and he has remained in office without reappointment.

He said Bentley asked him last spring what he planned to do. After telling her he wanted to stay for possibly up to a year to spearhead a savings and loan criminal trial and other cases, he said, "I can't say she gave me a warm embrace."

Willcox said he will start looking for a position with a private law firm, possibly in Washington, before the end of the year. He said he plans to specialize in white-collar criminal defense work. As the top federal prosecutor in Maryland, he has pushed prosecution of industrial polluters, crooked defense contractors and other so-called white-collar criminals.

As a former prosecutor, he will be barred for at least one year from representing clients in litigation against the federal government in Maryland.