Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner yesterday made official his intentions to stay on the sideline in the 2006 race for the U.S. Senate and said he has committed to finding a "viable" candidate to challenge Republican Sen. George Allen.

In his monthly "Ask the Governor" radio show on WTOP, Warner (D) said he does not want to be distracted by campaigning against Allen during the final four months of his administration. Virginia bars governors from running for consecutive terms.

"There's a lot left for me to do in these last four months," Warner told listeners, citing his desire to finish education reforms and other projects. "I just didn't want to be distracted."

Warner declined to say to whom he is talking about running against Allen in his stead. Asked by WTOP commentator Mark Plotkin to confirm names, Warner said he would make that announcement later.

"We have talked to potential candidates. Absolutely they have names," Warner told Plotkin. "We want to share those names when those individuals decide to."

A Democratic source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because discussions are in the early stage, said the party has approached Del. J. Chapman Petersen (Fairfax) and state Sen. John S. Edwards (Roanoke), who lost bids this year to become the Democratic nominees for lieutenant governor and attorney general, respectively.

Warner also has approached U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher, the source said. But Democrats worry that the party probably would lose his southwest Virginia seat to Republicans for a generation if he ran for Senate.

Petersen did not return calls to his office. A Boucher aide said he was out of town. Edwards said he has been contacted by Democrats and is "flattered" but happy with his current job.

Warner also declined to say whether he plans to run for president in 2008. He is mentioned regularly among Democratic insiders as a leading early candidate.

Warner has also formed a federal political action committee and has begun hiring staff with knowledge of national politics.

But on the radio, Warner said those moves do not necessarily mean he has decided to run for president. As he does repeatedly, he said he would consider running for governor again in 2009, a possibility state law allows.

"That doesn't mean I've ruled anything else in or out," he said of his decision to avoid a Senate campaign against Allen.

Warner made it clear that during the next year, he plans to continue traveling across the country lecturing Democrats on the opportunity he sees for seizing power back from the Republican Party.

"I want to be a part of the debate that moves the Democratic Party back to being the majority party in this country," Warner said, echoing speeches he has begun giving across the nation. "We are not the majority party now."