Howard Mills (search), the deputy Republican minority leader of the state Assembly, said Wednesday he will seek the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer's (search) re-election bid this year.

"If I receive the nomination, I will be running," Mills said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

Mills faces enormous obstacles, not the least of which is Schumer's bulging campaign warchest of more than $20 million, the largest of any senator up for re-election this year.

"I know he's got a tremendous bank account, but he doesn't have a record," Mills said of the one-term senator. "We will have enough money to get that message out."

Schumer spokesman Phil Singer (search), asked about Mills' candidacy, said "Chuck's going to continue to work hard to be the best senator he can be for New York and he's not looking over his shoulder."

Mills' candidacy surfaced after a number of big-name Republicans, including former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, had already said they would not run against Schumer.

Thus far, only a little-known former Wall Street trader, Michael Benjamin, has announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination to challenge Schumer.

Gov. George Pataki's hand-picked state GOP chairman, Alexander Treadwell, said Mills had the support of top party leaders, including the governor, and would have no trouble getting the party's nomination.

"This is the guy," Treadwell insisted.

In addition to his duties as Assembly minority leader, Mills is also chairman of the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee, a post which makes him the Assembly GOP's chief fund-raiser.

"I know how to raise money," Mills boasted.

Asked how much he might need to run a competitive race, Mills said: "I can't put a number on that, but we'll have enough money to be competitive."

One top state Republican, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the money issue is no small matter because the national party isn't expected to provide any funds for the race.

In addition to Schumer's money, Mills also faces the problem of being virtually unknown outside his Orange County base just north of New York City.

"You'll see me everywhere in the state," he vowed Wednesday.

Mills made it clear that he plans to make Schumer himself the primary campaign issue.

"He's more interested in generating press coverage for himself, positioning himself for some future run than paying attention to the work of delivering for New York," the Republican said. There has been speculation that Schumer might be eyeing a run for governor in 2006.

Mills, who will turn 40 in May, has been in the Assembly for five years. Before that he was a local elected official and an aide to then-Republican U.S. Rep. Benjamin Gilman.

Schumer, of Brooklyn, is a former member of the state Assembly who was serving in the U.S. House of Representatives when he ousted three-term Republican incumbent Alfonse D'Amato from the Senate in 1990.