RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ Elizabeth Dole says she will consider running for the Senate from her native North Carolina if Sen. Jesse Helms decides to retire.

Helms, 79, has said he would announce by September whether he will seek a sixth term.

``If Jesse should make a decision not to run, I would have to give it serious consideration,'' Dole told The News & Observer of Raleigh through a spokeswoman for Tuesday's editions.

State Republican Party Chairman Bill Cobey said Monday that Helms was his preferred candidate, but Helms' age and health problems have fed rumors that he may leave office. Helms suffers from a condition that numbs his feet and impairs his balance, and he had knee replacement surgery in 1998.

Dole led the American Red Cross for eight years before launching an unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1999. The wife of former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, she also is a former federal transportation secretary and labor secretary.

Helms' most recent campaign finance report showed little fund-raising in the first half of the year. The report showed he raised $175,406 between January and June _ a fraction of what Helms raised in 1996 when he was gearing up for a campaign that cost about $8 million.

Other Republicans who have expressed interest in Helms' seat include Rep. Richard Burr, former Sen. Lauch Faircloth, Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot and lawyer Jim Snyder. Two Democrats have announced they are running: state Sen. Eric Reeves and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall.