State GOP Chairman Alexander Treadwell (search) would be "a good candidate" to challenge Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer's re-election bid this year, Gov. George Pataki (search) said Tuesday.

But Pataki cautioned that he hadn't "talked with him directly about his being a candidate."

Being careful not to prick what had all the markings of a trial balloon, a spokeswoman for the governor's hand-picked state party chairman said: "The chairman is flattered by the governor's comments. He certainly appreciates the sentiments. We will have a strong Republican candidate to take on Chuck Schumer (search)."

"That is what I am saying. That's it," said Treadwell aide Karin Kennett when asked to elaborate.

Pataki and the GOP have had a tough time coming up with a challenger for Schumer, who enjoys high poll numbers and more than $20 million in campaign funds, more than any other senator facing re-election this year.

A number of big-name Republicans, including former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, have said they would not run against Schumer. The Buffalo News reported last week that Erie County Executive Joel Giambra is the latest to skip a race against Schumer. Both Giambra and Treadwell have refused to confirm that.

Thus far, only a little known former Wall Street trader, Michael Benjamin, has announced his candidacy for the GOP Senate nomination. State Sen. Nancy Larraine Hoffmann, a former Democrat from the Syracuse area, is considering the race.

Treadwell, a one-time Sports Illustrated writer, has a couple of important attributes for Republicans. He is reasonably well known across the state by local GOP leaders and he is independently wealthy.

New York Republicans expect little or no financial help from the national GOP in taking on Schumer.

On the downside, Treadwell is considered a lackluster public speaker.

There was no immediate comment from Schumer on the prospect of facing Treadwell.