He never would want to follow exactly in Hillary Rodham Clinton's footsteps, because her politics and his couldn't be more polar. But Alan Keyes of Montgomery County might try to follow the former first lady's success in being elected to the U.S. Senate from a state in which he's never before lived.

Just four years ago, Keyes criticized Clinton as a carpetbagger. Her incursion into New York represented "the destruction of federalism," he declared, as he refused conservatives' entreaties that he, too, trespass and run against her.

Now Illinois Republicans have come calling from even farther away. And Keyes -- a radio talk show host, Reagan administration official, two-time Senate candidate in Maryland and two-time candidate for president -- is reconsidering.

"He will address all issues on Sunday," his wife, Jocelyn, said yesterday afternoon from their Darnestown home, declining any further comment.

With the election less than 90 days away, GOP party leaders in the Land of Lincoln apparently decided they could get over the residency issue. They were in a difficult spot after losing their homegrown nominee earlier this summer amid disclosure of some unseemly allegations about sex made by his ex-wife in divorce papers.

They chose the 53-year-old Keyes over more than a dozen other people interviewed in a marathon session this week, believing that he could energize the election as much as Democratic opponent Barack Obama, an Illinois state senator and rising national star -- and, like Keyes, an African American.

"Once the committee had a chance to listen to him speak," said party communications director Jason Gerwig, "they were quite impressed."

That's no surprise, Maryland GOP Party Chairman John M. Kane said. He considers Keyes an articulate speaker who can espouse policies and platforms skillfully before large audiences. But Kane wondered why his fellow Republican would head all the way to the Midwest to again enter the political ring.

"If he's interested in running, I am curious why he wouldn't want to get involved in races here," Kane said.

Maryland Democrats are amused, , at best.

U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who defeated Keyes in his second Senate bid in 1992, chortled when she learned of his possible future campaign. "His fate in Illinois will be the same as his fate in Maryland," she said through a spokesman.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, was harsh in his assessment: "Alan Keyes was out of key with the people of Maryland when he ran" here. "He was out of sync with the people of Maryland . . . and he will be out sync with the residents of Illinois, too."

Another caucus member, from Illinois, was scathing. "We think this is a cruel hoax perpetrated by the Republican Party on the voters," said Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D), a former Black Panther who is now a prominent lawmaker from Chicago.

Keyes's previous campaigns at times have triggered questions about his motivation, which even conservative Republican pundit Armstrong Williams alluded to yesterday.

"I have a lot of respect for Alan Keyes," Williams said. "I just hope that he seriously thinks about what he is doing. I hope that he is doing this because he thinks that he can win and not because this will generate publicity and intrigue."

But if Keyes announces his candidacy this weekend, his 20878 Zip code and rationale for running will hardly be the only hurdles in his way. He will have to "raise a ton of dough" in very little time, Kane noted, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee has yet to commit its financial backing. The committee will be looking at "where will our resources have the biggest impact," according to a spokesman.

The past might resurface in other ways. More than two years ago, Maryland issued a lien against Keyes and his wife for delinquent and unpaid state income taxes for 1997. A copy of the civil filing in Montgomery County Circuit Court shows the couple still owes $7,481.99 in taxes, interest and penalties.

Alan Keyes has run for president and U.S. Senate.