COLUMBUS, Ohio – Of the 22 candidates who each spent more than $1 million of their own money trying to win their first election to Congress, only one made it.
The lesson, say analysts, is that ready cash is less important than experience and whether voters perceive wealthy candidates as "one of them."
"Millionaires don't automatically win," said Herb Asher (search), a political science professor at Ohio State University. "The money just gives them instant credibility and puts them in the position to be able to run in the first place."
The sole victor was former federal prosecutor Michael McCaul, who won in a Texas district once represented by Lyndon B. Johnson. The biggest loser — in terms of money down the drain — was securities trader Blair Hull, who spent nearly $29 million trying for a Senate seat but lost in the Illinois Democratic primary to Barack Obama (search).
The reasons the other 20 lost after spending a total exceeding $40 million differ widely. Some ran against popular incumbents, some duked it out against other millionaires in their state's primary election, and a few ran close and credible races only to come up short at the very end.
Political newcomers Capri Cafaro (search), a 26-year-old shopping center heiress, and Jack Davis, a New York businessman, said the reasons for running made the money well spent.
Cafaro, a Democrat, campaigned against a poor economy in northeast Ohio, which has bled manufacturing jobs. She lost with 37 percent to five-term Republican Rep. Steve LaTourette's 63 percent.
"I knew getting in that this was going to cost money," said Cafaro, who spent $1.6 million.
Davis, who changed parties to become a Democrat so he could run against incumbent Republican Tom Reynolds, said the $1.2 million he spent was worth it just to get his message out that free trade policies are costing American jobs. He lost to Reynolds 44 percent to 56 percent.
"I don't feel it's wasted. It was something that I had to do," Davis said. "What I did was to prove a point."
Democratic Sens. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Chris Dodd of Connecticut easily swept past their wealthy challengers.
"If they are running against strong incumbents who can raise their own money, that can make a big difference," Asher said.
A campaign finance rule that went into effect this year helped the incumbents by allowing those running against millionaires to raise from donors up to $6,000 a person — three times the normal ceiling on individual contributions to a single candidate.
Open races often present the best possibility for millionaire candidates, but even then, it helps to have experience, Asher said.
Political novice Jeanne Patterson spent $3 million of her own money on a race to replace Rep. Karen McCarthy, D-Mo., but lost to Democratic Kansas City Mayor Emanuel Cleaver 46 percent to 52 percent.
In Texas, McCaul, a former counterterrorism specialist in the Justice Department, had the experience — and the cash. His wife, Linda, is the daughter of Lowry Mays, chairman of the board of Clear Channel Communications Inc.
McCaul spent about $2 million from his own pocket to defeat millionaire Ben Streusand, a Houston-area mortgage banker, in a Republican runoff primary election. Since there was no Democratic candidate, McCaul won election to the House.
Sometimes wealthy political wannabees will put up their money for an initial bid for public office to win name recognition for use in subsequent races.
The second time was the charm for millionaire trucking magnate Mike Sodrel, who spent $515,000 of his own money in this year's campaign to defeat three-term Democratic incumbent Baron Hill of Indiana. Sodrel spent $1 million of his fortune on an unsuccessful campaign against Hill in 2002.
A second attempt, however, didn't pay off for Erskine Bowles, once chief of staff to President Clinton. Bowles spent $6.8 million of his cash in an unsuccessful Senate race in 2002, losing to Republican Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina. He spent another $1.5 million of his personal funds in this year's Senate race against GOP Rep. Richard Burr — and lost again.
At least one millionaire candidate started his Senate race with a well-known name — beer executive Pete Coors of Colorado. Coors spent $950,000 of his fortune but came up short against Democrat Ken Salazar, the state's attorney general.
Stanley Renshon, a political psychologist at the City University of New York, said it often comes down to whether voters perceive the millionaires as one of them.
"There are millionaires of the people and then there are just millionaires," Renshon said. "We don't mind people making money, but we don't like people who make money and think they are better than us. The secret is to be rich but not snobby."