Jim Neal, the Democrat who plans to challenge Sen. Elizabeth Dole, is gay, a camapign spokesman confirmed Monday.

Neal spoke publicly of his sexual orientation over the weekend during an online discussion organized by a liberal blog, spokesman Thomas Mills said.

In response to a message on BlueNC.com asking whether he was gay, Neal is quoted a saying: "I am indeed. No secret and no big deal to me — I wouldn't be running if I didn't think otherwise."

He continued: "I'm not running this race to make some social statement. I'm running to lead in the Senate for the voters in NC — something Sen. Dole has not done."

Neal is a fundraiser for 2004 presidential candidates who has never run for public office. He is the only Democrat who has announced he will run next year against Dole.