Getting face time in uphill struggle -- Gazette.Net



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Potomac businessman Rob Sobhani is a late entry into the U.S. Senate race in Maryland, but already he seemingly is giving Kim Kardashian a run for TV airtime.

In the first two weeks of his campaign, Sobhani has spent more than $700,000 a week on television advertising, airing commercials that are in rotation five to seven times per day in the expensive Washington, D.C., and Baltimore markets.

Sobhani entered the race Sept. 4 after turning in 77,000 signatures to the state Board of Elections to be listed on the ballot as an independent candidate. He is one of seven candidates for U.S. Senate in Maryland, including incumbent Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D), Republican nominee Daniel Bongino and three write-in candidates.

The heavy advertising buy is a way to introduce Sobhani to Maryland residents, said Sam Patten, the candidate’s spokesman.

Polling has shown that he lacks high name recognition in the state but that voters want an alternative candidate, Patten said.

Sobhani, who has sought a U.S. Senate seat twice previously but was defeated in the Republican primary, is running this time as an independent because he believes the two-party system is broken, Patten said.

A self-described businessman who “leads a management team that provides multinationals and sovereign governments as well as technology start-ups with strategic partnerships and tailor-made counsel,” Sobhani writes a blog that focuses heavily on Iran policy and economic issues. His campaign says he comes down on the Democratic side on some issues and the Republican side on others.

Among his chief issues, he said he would like to see a public-private partnership to convert the Beltway to a double-decked roadway.

One of his TV ads promises that as senator he would find new markets for $1 billion worth of Maryland products that would create 7,000 jobs. If he fails to accomplish that, he won’t seek re-election, he says while staring into the camera.

In a statement on Facebook, Bongino said Sobhani’s entry into the race is more likely to take votes from Cardin, but Matthew A. Crenson, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University, disagrees.

“Bongino didn’t have a good chance to begin with,” Crenson said. “With Sobhani in the race, his chances are even more limited. Even without Sobhani, Cardin didn’t have anything to worry about from Bongino.”

Maryland Democrats outnumber Republicans by 56 percent to 27 percent. Bongino’s last campaign finance report shows that he has raised $473,000 but has just $101,000 cash on hand, while Cardin raised $2.8 million and has $2.2 million cash on hand, according to his June 30 filing.

In a phone interview Thursday, Bongino said he has just released his first ad on television on the “disgusting” high taxes in Maryland and will soon follow with a second ad featuring his wife, who was born in Colombia. The ad is in Spanish to appeal to Hispanic voters and will show a more personal side of him, Bongino said.

The TV ads being run by Sobhani, who Bongino said was trying to “out-Cardin Cardin,” will end up helping the Republican candidate, Bongino said.

“It’s only a positive for us,” he said. “I’m really not surprised at all that someone with that kind of money would jump in. Senator Cardin is really vulnerable.”

For his part, Sobhani has met Bongino once and thinks he’s a “bright guy,” Patten said. But, he added, “It’s not the intention of this campaign to help or hurt Mr. Bongino, but to win this campaign and change the way politics is done in Maryland.”

Cardin spokeswoman Sue Walitsky said Sobhani’s entry into the race is not changing how the senator campaigns.

“Senator Cardin is running his race the same way as before,” Walitsky said.

Cardin has made campaign stops throughout the state to make the case for why voters should re-elect him, she said. Among his issues, she cited his push for health care reform “so that those with pre-existing conditions cannot be denied insurance, and parents can keep their children on insurance until they are 26 years old.”

As for Cardin campaigning extensivel even though he’s considered a prohibitive favorite, Walitsky said, “Running hard, being out there, that’s just who he is.

“He’s running to keep Maryland moving forward. The recovery is slow and not reaching everybody, and he’s going to keep working until it does.”

Cardin’s television ad buy in the primary was effective because the airwaves were not as cluttered, political observers said. While Sobhani’s ads are in heavy rotation, in the Washington, D.C., market they overlap with ads from Virginia candidates.

Studies have shown that commercials are noticed more by liberals than conservatives, Crenson said.

Sobhani, who has pledged to self-fund his campaign and shun special-interest money, will continue to try to get seen and heard, Patten said.

“Since he’s gone up on television, a surprising number of people do want to contribute to him,” he said.

cford@gazette.net