A former fashion company executive with deep financial pockets is planning to run for the U.S. Senate this year against Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (search), D-Conn., and spend at least $800,000 of his own money on the race. 

Republican Jack C. Orchulli (search) of Darien, former co-owner and chief executive officer of the Michael Kors design label, has filed candidacy documents with the Federal Election Commission (search) and has started setting up his campaign.

A newcomer to politics, Orchulli, 57, is also new to the Republican party. He was registered as an unaffiliated voter in Darien until last August, when he switched to the GOP. He has made just one campaign contribution in the last 20 years, according to election records, sending $2,000 to the state GOP party last June.

Orchulli, who sold his interest in the clothing line a year ago, is now retired. He joins four other Republicans who have filed papers with the FEC for the Senate race: Miriam Masullo of New Canaan, Paul F. Streitz of Darien, William S. Bentley of North Haven and Alphonse Wright of New Britain.

But Orchulli is the only one who could pour more than a million dollars into his own campaign, based on estimates he filed with the FEC.

"Jack plans to invest considerable resources into this race," campaign spokesman John Healey said Tuesday. "And he plans to use those resources wisely. We've got a great team in place and we're going to run a campaign that is efficient, positive and focused on the people of Connecticut."

Orchulli declined to comment for this story.

Former GOP state chairman Chris DePino said he has been talking to Orchulli about the campaign and said he would be a "good candidate whose fund-raising will be very competitive."

"He's the best candidate Republicans can put forward," said DePino, now a lobbyist. "The task is formidable, but it's not impossible.

If Orchulli snags the GOP nomination, it would mark the second time that Dodd has faced a wealthy candidate willing to pour his own fortune into the campaign. In 1992, Greenwich millionaire Brook Johnson used his wealth to snatch the GOP nomination, but lost to Dodd, 59 percent to 38 percent, despite lending his campaign more than $1 million.

Dodd has not yet officially announced his intention to seek a fifth term. But early last year he opted not to run for president, saying he wanted to stay in the Senate.

"Senator Dodd is focused on the people of our state, not politics," said spokesman Marvin Fast.

Dodd has about $3.6 million in cash on hand, according to reports filed at the end of 2003. He spent $4.4 million in his 1998 race against former Congressman Gary Franks of Waterbury and won by a 2-to-1 margin.

The state parties will select their nominees at conventions in May.