Kathleen Kennedy Townsend addresses the congregation of the Ark of Safety Christian Church in Oxon Hill, Md., during her gubernatorial run in 2002 as the Rev. Dr. C. Anthony Muse looks on. (Lucian Perkins/The Washington Post)

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is the latest in a long list of possible contenders to consider a run to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who announced Monday that she will step down in 2016 after four decades in Congress.

The former Maryland lieutenant governor said Wednesday that she has made inquiries and is talking to friends — including Mikulski — about entering what could be a crowded Democratic primary field.

“I am thinking about it,” Kennedy Townsend said. “I have always wanted to serve the people of Maryland.”

Kennedy Townsend, the only woman to have served as lieutenant governor in Maryland, is one of several women whose names are being floated to replace Mikulski, the longest-serving woman in Congress and an unofficial dean among the current group of female lawmakers.

Rep. Donna Edwards (D), the first black congresswoman from the state, has already drawn support from some progressive groups. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) is another possible contender.

Longtime lawmakers such as Reps. Chris Van Hollen, Elijah E. Cummings, John Delaney, John Sarbanes and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger also have been mentioned as likely Democratic candidates for Mikulski’s seat. On the Republican side,there is Rep. Andy Harris and, possibly, fomer governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and former lieutenant governor Michael Steele.

Asked whether she thought a woman should succeed Mikulski, Kennedy Townsend said: “As the first woman lieutenant governor [in the state], I know the challenges women face, but I know there are also a lot of good candidates.”

Mikulski, she added, “is a groundbreaker for women, but she’s also a groundbreaker for working men and women,” Kennedy Townsend added. “She has stood up for the little guy.”

Since losing her 2002 bid for the governorship to Ehrlich, Kennedy Townsend has kept her feet in both the public and private sectors. She has managed the Rock Creek private investment company for the past decade and is a professor at Georgetown University.

While at the school, she founded the Center for Retirement Initiatives, a public policy center that offers research and helps state governments deal with pension and retirement issues.

Kennedy Townsend said she has remained active in politics, serving as chairman of a state retirement task force under Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), and raising money nationally for Democratic candidates.

A Senate seat, she said, would give her the platform to advocate for the issues that she has worked on for the past several years. “The federal government has not been as active at protecting retirees” as it has in the past, Kennedy Townsend said. “That needs to change, and I’d like to be part of that.”