DFL Senate candidate Mike Ciresi, a multimillionaire attorney, is lending his campaign $2 million to "build on the momentum" demonstrated in a recent poll, campaign officials said Friday.

The Rasmussen Reports poll of 500 likely voters, taken Feb. 16, showed DFLer Al Franken ahead of Republican incumbent Norm Coleman, 49 to 46 percent, and Ciresi running just behind Coleman, 47 to 45 percent. Each set of results was within the margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

"The poll showed this race is a dead heat and there's no front-runner," said Ciresi spokeswoman Leslie Sandberg.

Ciresi, who has an estimated worth of more than $26 million, already had given more than $528,000 to his campaign. That was more than a quarter of the nearly $1.9 million he raised last year, trailing the $7 million and $6.6 million raised by Coleman and Franken, respectively.

Ciresi put nearly $5 million of his own money into his unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid in 2000. Last year he said that he didn't plan to self-fund again but that he hadn't ruled it out.

"It's been an unusual year," Sandberg said, "with an early presidential race and a celebrity [Franken] raising money and spending it like water. We are going to be competitive."

Sandberg declined to say how the campaign plans to use the infusion of money at a time when the DFL candidates, including Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, are pursuing delegates to the state party convention in June. Delegate races don't cost nearly as much as the general election, which is still months away.

David Schultz, a Hamline University professor who specializes in government ethics and politics, said the loan suggests "a long-haul strategy" laying the groundwork for a possible primary race.

Ciresi last year promised not to run in the primary if he fails to get the party's endorsement at the convention, although he said he might reconsider if the campaign calendar was changed. Since then, the Legislature moved up party caucuses from March to February.

But Sandberg said Friday that nothing has changed. "He will abide by the endorsement," she said.

Said Franken spokesman Andy Barr: "We continue to take [Ciresi] at his word. All DFLers know how important it is that this party unify in June to take on Norm Coleman."

In addition to Ciresi, Franken and Nelson-Pallmeyer, the DFL field includes Darryl Stanton and Dick Franson.

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455