WASHINGTON (AP) _ Publishing magnate Malcolm S. Forbes Jr. says hundreds of people are encouraging him to run for president, in a bid to fill a ``void and vacuum'' in the Republican field.

But he is undecided about whether to put his business on hold, subject his family to campaign and pour millions of dollars of his own money into the race.

He's given himself a September deadline to decide, but said in an interview from New York that, ``The vision hasn't come yet.''

Forbes, 48, said he would be ``an outsider running against what you might call the political class.'' He has no political background, but served as a Reagan and Bush appointee to head the commission overseeing Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.

He said he has received hundreds of letters of encouragement since making public his thought of running. And nothing has happened over the past several weeks to make him feel better about those in the GOP primary race. ``The void and vacuum are still there,'' he said.

He particularly criticized the Senate, home of four presidential candidates including Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas, for failing to pass a tax cut and other reforms.

If he enters the race, Forbes said he will spend ``what it takes'' of his fortune to compete with candidates raising more than $20 million this year and supplementing that with federal matching funds next year. By using his own money, he would have to forgo matching funds.

Forbes has sought out party operatives and advisers since supply-side economics enthusiasts, led by economic consultant Jude Wanniski, began urging him on. He said he never entertained the notion until Wanniski came to him.

``Steve is a kinder, gentler Ross Perot,'' said Wanniski.

Forbes has consulted with former Reagan strategist John Sears and North Carolina political veterans Carter Wren and Tom Ellis, along with longtime friend and Readers Digest editor Ken Tomlinson and Bill Dal Col, president of Empower America, the conservative group of which Forbes is board chairman.

Also on board is Virginia pollster John McLaughlin. He left his firm, which is working for front-runner Dole, so he could help Forbes.

``We're getting a lot of phone calls from people who want to help,'' said McLaughlin.

But GOP analyst Bill Kristol called Forbes ``a super long shot'' and said, ``He's a great guy and will be a great Treasury secretary ... in the next Republican administration.''

Nonetheless, Forbes' potential candidacy ``does suggest a weakness and an unhappiness with the field, as it is now, that is more widely shared,'' Kristol said.

``The post-1994 Republican Party is Reaganite and wants a successor to Reagan. Steve Forbes is offering himself as a possibility,'' Kristol said.

Forbes, who with his wife, Sabina, has five daughters ages 7 to 22, took over Forbes Inc., the family publishing empire founded in 1917 by his grandfather, when his father died in 1990. Its flagship is Forbes magazine, one of the nation's leading business publications.

At Princeton University, he had been founding editor of Business Today, which became the nation's largest student-published magazine with a circulation of 200,000.

He dismisses the current candidates as beholden to polls and lacking a sense of excitement, optimism and ``can-do'' spirit. ``There is not a sense of where we're at and where we can go,'' he said.

Forbes had hoped to support former Housing Secretary Jack Kemp but he decided not to run.

Forbes' general theme is economic expansion to improve Americans' overall living standards. He wants a flat tax to replace the current taxation system, which he said fosters ``legalized cheating,'' and stabilization of the dollar with a variation of the gold standard.

He favors an active U.S. role abroad and open trade. He supports the right to abortion in early pregnancy.

Forbes would have to run fast and hard to catch up with rivals who have been building their campaigns for months.

``For a candidate entering at this stage ... his message would have to be pretty startling to generate credibility or attention or focus or interest,'' said David Carney, a Dole strategist focusing on New Hampshire.

``He's starting real late and he's starting from nowhere,'' said Charlie Black, a political adviser to White House hopeful Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas. Forbes is ``a substantial guy,'' he said, but ``I'd be surprised if there were 10 local party officials in the whole country that know him.''