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What took months of agonizing self-examination for Bill Bradley, former Gov. Thomas Kean is trying to do much faster: decide whether to run for the U.S. Senate.

When Bradley said Aug. 16 that he would not be a candidate for a fourth term next year, Kean, a Republican, quickly said he might be interested in running for the open seat. So did another former governor, Jim Florio, a Democrat.While Florio has said he will take some time to test the waters, Kean has told his friends he will decide quickly, either this week before leaving for China for the World Conference on Women's Rights sponsored by the United Nations or soon after he returns.

One thing that will not stop Kean this time is family concerns. He almost did not run for a second term for governor in 1985 because of the demands on his time while his three children were growing up. He also cited his family in 1993 in backing away from a Senate race against Frank Lautenberg.

"Over the weekend, the family gave it their blessing," said Anthony Cicatiello, one of Kean's closest associates. "It's really his call."

Raymond H. Bateman, a former state Senate president who said he had advised Kean to run, said: "The family stuff and the campaign stuff are easy; the basic problem is climbing back into the arena."

Kean, 60, has been president of Drew University in Madison since leaving the governor's office after two terms in 1990.

"He has to decide if he wants to spend the next 12 years, the rest of his productive adult life, doing this, because you need more than six years to accomplish anything" said Bateman, a Somerville Republican.

If he runs, Kean will not be able to use the $700,000 held by a state political action committee created for his earlier campaigns, according to Ian Stirton, a spokesman for the Federal Election Commission. Some or all of the money could have been used for a federal campaign until two years ago, when the rules were changed, Stirton said. Kean also has $50,000 held in a federal PAC.

Not everyone is delighted by Kean's sudden interest in the race, not the least Rep. Dick Zimmer of Delaware Township, who has spent the last year establishing himself as the leading contender for the Republican Senate nomination.

Declan O'Scanlon, vice chairman of the New Jersey State Young Republicans, and Matt Leonardo, the executive director of the New Jersey State College Republicans, said the last thing the party needed was a "divisive, fund-sapping primary" between Kean and Zimmer.

Likewise in the Democratic Party, Florio's interest in the Senate seat since Bradley's announcement is creating waves. State Demo-cratic chairman Tom Byrne, who has been urging county chairmen to find new, young candidates to help lead the party back from its losses in state legislative and gubernatorial elections in the last few years, sounded the same theme when asked about a Florio candidacy.

"It's time to give the new people a chance," Byrne said.