INSIDE THE BELTWAY: With millionaires tapping copious fortunes to run for office, who will be this year's big loser?

Who will be 2000's Al Checchi? In 1998, the former chairman of Northwest Airlines gambled dollars 38 million of his estimated dollars 550 million fortune on the California statehouse. Checchi was trounced in the Democratic primary by career politician Gray Davis.

Who will be 2000's Al Checchi? In 1998, the former chairman of Northwest Airlines gambled dollars 38 million of his estimated dollars 550 million fortune on the California statehouse. Checchi was trounced in the Democratic primary by career politician Gray Davis.

Who will be 2000's Al Checchi? In 1998, the former chairman of Northwest Airlines gambled dollars 38 million of his estimated dollars 550 million fortune on the California statehouse. Checchi was trounced in the Democratic primary by career politician Gray Davis.

Despite Checchi's experience, a handful of millionaires every election cycle play the game of 'Who wants to be a Senator.' This year's candidates include Jon Corzine, former CEO of Goldman Sachs who shattered spending records for both a Senate primary and general election by spending an incredible dollars 34 million to clinch the Democratic Senate nod in New Jersey.

But my vote for the biggest likely loser is in Minnesota, where two multimillionaires are vying for the chance to face Senator Rod Grams: Mark Dayton, heir to Dayton department stores; and Mike Ciresi, a trial lawyer who won dollars 6.1 billion for Minnesota in its landmark suit against the tobacco industry.

Setting a Minnesota record, the two have spent dollars 8.7 million of their own fortunes so far, most on TV advertising. As of last week, Dayton had raised dollars 4.6 million for his campaign, most of it his own money, and spent dollars 3.4 million. Ciresi, too, spent nearly dollars 3.4 million, giving his campaign dollars 2.6 million of the dollars 3.7 million raised as of that date.

But Dayton's ads have been more effective, and he had a 21-point lead over Ciresi in the latest Minneapolis Star-Tribune survey. Inspired by Shrum Devine Donilon, the agency promoting Al Gore and Corzine, Dayton's commercials have pounded the popular themes of Social Security and healthcare.

Ciresi's ads have been erratic in style and tone; one featured him riding a snowmobile, another touted his support for electronic privacy In an effort to turn the tide, the campaign recently signed Jim Margolis of Greer, Margolis, Mitchell & Burns to supplant the quirkier Bill Hillsman, who did media for Minnesota pols Jesse Ventura and Sen. Paul Wellstone.

For the first time, Ciresi is now running spots touting an agenda - portraying him as a tough courtroom brawler who will win the fight for prescription drug coverage and protect Social Security. The question is whether it's too late for the once-promising candidate.

Political history reveals at least one big-spending loser every election cycle. In 1998, as well as Checchi, there was California car alarm magnate Darrell Issa, who spent dollars 13.5 million of his own money to lose the GOP Senate primary. In 1996, Virginia businessman Mark Warner spent dollars 11.6 million of his personal largesse to lose a Senate seat. Warner is now eyeing a bid for governor.



- Rachel Van Dongen is a senior staff writer at Roll Call in Washington, DC.



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