Outgoing Secretary of Education William J. Bennett says that if he runs for any political office in the future, it will be the presidency.

Bennett told The Associated Press that such an effort may be years away, "but after watching some of the people in the stakes for the presidency, I could do that well.""I won't mention anybody in particular," the outspoken educator said, but he added that he was referring to both Republican and Democratic hopefuls.

Bennett, who announced last Monday he is quitting the Cabinet in mid-September to write and lecture, brought up the White House himself when asked in an interview if he aspired to run for the Senate.

Bennett said he has had overtures about possible Senate races from his native state of New York, his adopted state of North Carolina and from Maryland, where he now lives.

But he said neither the Senate, nor the possibility of a college presidency, holds any interest for him.

"Right now, if I were going to run for anything in the future, I'd want to run for president," he volunteered.

Asked about the vice presidency, Bennett said, "I'm not sure I'd make a very good No. 2 man. I like to run things."

Vice President George Bush, who has already locked up the GOP nomination, says he wants to be "the education president." His campaign has kept its distance from the controversial Bennett, who has warred with teacher unions and pilloried college presidents.

Bennett did not mention Bush by name, but said, "We'll probably have a good Republican president in '88 who'll be there for a couple of terms. If I do this, this could be way in the future."

A lifelong Democrat, Bennett switched to the GOP in May 1986, 15 months after President Reagan put him in the Cabinet. He has proven a big draw at Republican functions across the country.

Asked if he was now wedded to the GOP, the 44-year-old Bennett replied, "Probably."

Only probably?

"Well, sure. Look, I was a Democrat. I shifted to the Republican Party because the Democrats left the ranch and deserted their principles. I don't see that happening in the Republican Party. But I put country above party, always have," he said.

"This will no doubt shock by sheer chutzpah some of my critics, but we were not political. We were principled and a lot of our principles ... went to the heart of what Ronald Reagan stands for and what a lot of liberal Democrats stand against," he said.

"I know that I'm popular with audiences out there in the country, and it doesn't seem to make much difference whether they're Democrats or Republicans," he said.