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WASHINGTON-The Clinton White House will soon be able to put its own mark on advertising regulation.

A vacancy is imminent at the Federal Trade Commission, and the Clinton administration will be installing its first representative at the five-person agency that oversees national and local advertising.

Republican Deborah Owen is not expected to linger beyond-or perhaps even until-the Sept. 25 end of her term. Adding to the significance of the first Clinton nomination is the likelihood that Ms. Owen's replacement will be designated as FTC chairman. That would leave the current chairman, Republican Janet Steiger, to serve out the remaining year of her seven-year term as a commissioner.

Currently, two names perch atop the list of rumored candidates.

Charles Burson, attorney general of Tennessee since 1988, is widely perceived as the front-runner, and with good reasons. The 49-year-old Mr. Burson is a close friend of Vice President Al Gore; has been active within the National Association of Attorneys General, chairing its FTC Working Group and consumer protection commission in 1990-91; and has appeared often before congressional panels.

If Mr. Burson is candidate No. 1, then Kevin Curtin is right behind him. Mr. Curtin, 42, is currently chief counsel and staff director for the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, arguably the most significant committee for business on Capitol Hill.

Highly regarded by industry lobbyists, Mr. Curtin enjoys the proper connections-he's a protege of Sen. Ernest Hollings (D., S.C.), chairman of the Senate commerce committee.

Mr. Curtin has also played a key role in the behind-the-scenes discussions between the House and Senate that are expected to lead to a law defining unfair advertising.

Mr. Curtin acknowledged that hearing his own name bandied about as a possible FTC commissioner was somewhat embarrassing since his committee would hold confirmation hearings on a new FTC commissioner.

"I wouldn't rule my name in or out at this time," Mr. Curtin said.

A second-and distinctly lower-tier of candidates to replace Ms. Owen includes another congressional staff person, another state attorney general, a Washington attorney or two and a consumer activist whose nomination would make the Clarence Thomas hearings appear tame.

Peter Kinzler, 51, is staff director for the House Committee on Banking, Finance & Urban Affairs' Subcommittee on Financial Institutions. Mr. Kinzler has logged a 25-year career on Capitol Hill, holding a variety of congressional staff positions, mostly dealing with financial matters. He has also been an FTC staff attorney.

Robert Abrams, 56, has been New York's attorney general since 1979 and has used that office for several attacks on major advertisers for perceived violations. Mr. Abrams was a leader of the attorneys general association's 1980s surge in activism, especially against Kraft General Foods, McDonald's Corp. and other major marketers.

If Mr. Abrams upsets the stomachs of ad industry lobbyists, then Bruce Silverglade positively burns a hole right through them. Once a staff attorney at the FTC, Mr. Silverglade 40, since the early 1980s has been legal affairs director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Many industry representatives-and congressional types, as well-accuse Mr. Silverglade of publicly campaigning for the job, rarely missing an opportunity to propose that Ms. Owen be succeeded by a consumer activist. Campaigning or not, Mr. Silverglade's nomination would be roundly opposed by advertising and business groups.

Finally, there's Washington lawyer Michael Lemov, who helped analyze the FTC for the Clinton administration's transition team.

A longshot might be Robert Pitofsky, a former FTC commissioner in the Carter administration and director of its Bureau of Consumer Protection, and now a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center. A noted authority on antitrust matters, Mr. Pitofsky is considered by some to be a candidate only if assured he would become FTC chairman.

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