Nobody ever accused George McGovern of being a businessman.

But now the man who lost the race for president in 1972, lost a Senate seat in 1980 and lost the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 has added an economic embarrassment to his list of political pratfalls.

The only business McGovern ever ran has filed for bankruptcy.

McGovern's Stratford Inn, a 150-room motel in Bridgeport, Conn., sought protection from its creditors in bankruptcy court last Friday after the owners of the land the inn sits on threatened to foreclose. The inn was $85,000 behind on its rent.

The filing will give McGovern's Stratford Inn Associates L.P. time to work out a plan to pay its creditors under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code.

McGovern bought the aging inn -- with views of the Housatonic River and a helicopter plant -- last year to consummate what he told a reporter was a "lifelong love affair" with hotels.

After spending thousands of nights in other people's hotel rooms, McGovern put up $700,000 of his own money and borrowed $1.5 million from Century National Bank of Washington to buy and renovate his own hostelry.

The Stratford had been struggling for some time and had been marked down from $4 million to $1 million by the time McGovern and his wife, Eleanor, bought their 70 percent stake in the partnership.

The veteran candidate campaigned hard to bring business to the Stratford, flying up from Washington on weekends to offer McGovernesque advice on everything from wallpaper to menus -- he wanted bananas served with breakfast cereal. He even donated his old campaign buttons and set up Sunday discussions on "contemporary issues" to draw crowds for the $12.95 champagne brunch.

McGovern was as good as Donald Trump at generating free publicity, getting big play in The Washington Post and on Fox TV and a guest spot on "The Bob Newhart Show" -- where Newhart plays the keeper of a quaint Vermont guest house called the Stratford Inn.

The born-again businessman conceded in an interview last year that there might be some validity to the perennial complaint about politicians who've never met a payroll.

"I wish I'd done this before I'd run for president," he said, but the business apparently all-too-closely resembled McGovern's campaigns.

"Trying to rebuild an old hotel, there are always problems," said McGovern's bankruptcy attorney James Berman.

"The New England economy is not too strong and the hotel sector of the economy is being hit hard by the general economic climate," Berman said.

The innkeeper himself couldn't be reached for comment yesterday, but then election days have never been the best of times for George McGovern.