In a serious blow to Republican hopes for picking up a Senate seat in North Dakota, Gov. John Hoeven (R) said Friday that he will not challenge Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad next year.

Conrad, an 18-year Senate veteran, is from a bright-red state in terms of presidential elections. But because of the incumbent's deep Dakota roots and moderate voting record, leaders of both parties considered the well-liked Hoeven to be the only Republican with a solid chance of ousting him.

Some delighted Democrats suggested that President Bush's low approval ratings and the ethics problems facing GOP congressional leaders may be dissuading potentially strong Republican candidates from entering federal races next year. "Today's news is more evidence that running as a Republican could be hazardous to your health in 2006," crowed Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Hoeven, who was easily reelected last year, would have had to leave Bismarck in the middle of his second term if he won the 2006 Senate race. "A day may come when we ask the people of North Dakota to allow us to serve them in a different capacity," he said in a statement, "but that time is not now."

Conrad said: "I welcome the governor's decision. I never believed he'd be a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2006, because he had given his word that he would complete his four-year term when he ran for governor just last year."

A Site With True-Blue Colors

Seeking to burnish his growing reputation as a partisan warrior, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has launched a Web site designed to benefit Democrats running for the Senate in 2006.

The site,, is being pitched by Democrats as a clearinghouse for information on their candidate roster in 2006.

Playing off President Harry S. Truman's famous slogan during the 1948 campaign, the name of the site was chosen to reflect Reid's image as a "fighter and champion for the little guy," spokesman Erik Smith said. Reid was an amateur boxer in his younger days and has shown a penchant for verbal fisticuffs since taking over as the Senate's top-ranking Democrat late last year.

Since the site's launch on Wednesday, Smith said, more than 20,000 people have clicked on a feature to send letters to oil company executives demanding to know why the price of gas has continued to increase "in the face of national tragedy and record profits for your companies."

The site has also generated donations to a handful of Democrats running in 2006 -- including incumbent Sens. Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), Robert C. Byrd (W.Va.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), as well as challengers in Arizona, Missouri and Pennsylvania, Smith said.

The site's design was the brainchild of Blue State Digital, a firm that rose to prominence in 2003 and 2004 thanks to the successes -- financial and otherwise -- of former Vermont governor Howard Dean's Internet-savvy presidential campaign.

In conjunction with the launch, Reid bought billboards in Helena, Mont., Phoenix and Albuquerque that show the minority leader leaning against a post with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains and a clear blue sky, and the site's slogan emblazoned across the board. Not coincidentally, two of the Democrats' top targets in November 2006 -- Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) -- are from the West.

Kerry Helps Fill War Chests

Signaling that he won't go quietly into that good night to which presidential losers usually go to slumber, Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry has been fundraising hard for Democratic candidates in recent days.

Kerry's latest foray into the world of campaign cash comes in the form of an e-mail sent out last week on behalf of Sens. Robert C. Byrd (W.Va.) and Bill Nelson (Fla.), as well as two challengers -- Jim Pederson, a developer running for Senate in Arizona, and Missouri state Auditor Claire McCaskill, who is challenging freshman Sen. James M. Talent (R-Mo.).

"Hour by hour, the Republicans who control Washington give us more reasons to pour our hearts and souls into winning the 2006 elections," Kerry wrote in the appeal.

According to an estimate provided by Katharine Lister, a spokeswoman for Kerry's leadership political action committee, the plea has garnered $275,000 for the four highlighted candidates.

Even Kerry's high-profile spouse has chipped in of late.

Teresa Heinz Kerry, with an assist from her husband, helped Pennsylvania Senate candidate Robert Casey Jr. rake in more than $350,000 for his race against Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) at a fundraiser in Pittsburgh on Sept. 24.

All of this activity is designed to establish Kerry as a financial broker within the party by using the 3 million-person e-mail list compiled during the presidential primaries and general election to raise funds for other Democrats. While Lister asserts this largess is aimed solely at showing that Kerry is "committed to helping Democrats win across the country," it also helps keep him in the discussion as a viable national candidate in 2008.

Cillizza is a staff writer for The Fix,

his online column of political

news, will debut Monday.

Billboards in three Western states are part of Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid's campaign to publicize Democrats in midterm elections.