Democratic lawmakers and aides said Wednesday there is growing interest in tapping Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (search) as the Senate Democratic leader if Sen. Tom Daschle (searchretires next year.

Sources said elevating Clinton - in the Senate for only two-and-a-half - would be the best way to raise the party's profile in the face of a popular president and at a time when both houses of Congress are ruled by Republicans.

For the former first lady, the powerful post could offer her a high-profile platform from which to pursue the White House in 2008, as many believe she wants to do.

"It makes perfect sense," said one source. "Some people may have a hard time with it but it would be a perfect fit."

A sign of the mounting interest was evident at a recent meeting of Senate aides - both Republicans and Democrats - where talk turned to Clinton's possible ascension.

Another source told The Post the idea is popular among those Democrats who feel Daschle may retire - rather than face a difficult re-election battle in South Dakota next year - and who want to replace him with a leader who can instantly command national attention.

But the idea of Clinton - New York's junior senator and a lightning rod for criticism - rocketing to the head of the Senate has unnerved some senators, where tradition (and men) still run things.

Clinton insists she's not seeking the position and Daschle said he's planning to seek another term.

Several years ago, Daschle won the leadership job by one vote against Sen. Chris Dodd (search), D-Conn. - and sources say they expect Dodd to seek the position again should it open up.

Sen. Harry Reid (search), a quiet, soft-spoken Nevadan who some believe is the favorite to replace Daschle, is also eyeing the post along with Sens. Dick Durbin (searchof Illinois and Byron Dorgan (searchof North Dakota.