The Sobhani story

If you are old enough to remember the 1992 election, you may recall that the usual two-player Presidential game had a party-crasher by the name of Ross Perot. Eventually after a few campaign fits and starts Perot got 19% of the national Presidential vote and allowed Bill Clinton to win with just 43 percent (incumbent George H.W. Bush received 38 percent.) Some say that the eventual result would not have changed even without Perot, and perhaps my little piece of anecdotal evidence bears that out – I voted Perot but had he not been there I would have held my nose and voted for Bush. On the other hand, I also talked my spouse at the time out of voting for Clinton and into Perot. (Or so she said.) Still, there’s a part of me which believes Bush may have hung on to beat Clinton if not for Ross Perot and the Reform Party. (Which, by the way, is trying to make a comeback in Maryland.)

So after writing on Friday about the recent Gonzales Maryland Poll (which posted yesterday) I saw a couple items on independent U.S. Senate candidate Rob Sobhani. This in particular piqued my interest.

 

Perhaps Mr. Sobhani has a unique sense of humor I don’t understand given his Iranian heritage and loyalty to it, or Dan Bongino took him out of context. But then there was another item I spied on my Facebook page and alluded to in my previous link that led me to do a little research on the political donations of one Rob Sobhani. I’ll get to that shortly.

Worthy of note in this context is that Sobhani has run for the Republican nomination for Maryland’s U.S. Senate seat on two previous occasions – 1992, when he finished 5th out of a crowded 15-person field behind eventual GOP nominee Alan Keyes, and 2000, where he was runner-up to Paul Rappaport in an 8-way race.

Yet in his first FEC report on June 30, Sobhani recorded some typical expenditures. The timeline is as follows:

  • On February 5, the campaign paid Sullivan and Associates for legal services. They were paid again in May.
  • The Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies was paid $21,000 on March 10.
  • Presumably the polls were agreeable, since Sobhani paid a total of $142,171 to both Savanna Communications and Arno Political Consultants for petition services from April through June.
  • In addition he began a marketing campaign prominently featured on this website, at a cost of $1,800.
  • Finally, he hired Igoe and Associates as a consultant on June 15.

With the possible exceptions of Sullivan and Associates and hy.ly, the firms Sobhani used are fairly reliable Republican backers. But that doesn’t add up with his pattern of personal political donations.

I went to Opensecrets.com and pulled up a lengthy file of Sobhani’s political giving over the last 22 years. During a 15-year stretch from 1991 to 2006, Sobhani donated a total of $9,400 to a group of candidates which were almost exclusively Republican, with the one exception running as an independent. He also gave a total of $9,340 to the state and national Republican parties. His last donation to a Republican was to Michael Steele in 2006, who ironically ran for the very Senate seat Sobhani is trying for now.

But after a five-year hiatus, Sobhani started giving again – to Democrats. First was Milad Pooran, who was an also-ran for the Sixth District nomination won by John Delaney. Pooran was endorsed by a number of leftists including Howard Dean and Keith Ellison, the lone Islamic member of Congress. Just before the June 30 deadline, Sobhani doubled down and donated $250 to Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen, who represents the Memphis area. Most notably, Cohen sponsored a amendment reducing infrastructure funding in Afghanistan.

Perhaps it’s a way to burnish his independent credentials, but this seems quite curious for a guy who used to be a Republican to have gone so far to the left, at least in his political giving.

But rather than speculate on what his motives were, I wrote an e-mail to Rob and asked him a few questions point-blank:

  • Since you have run for the Senate before in 1992 and 2000, what made you decide to run as an independent? Was it a case of not having confidence in the MDGOP banner or did the party move in a direction you were uncomfortable with?
  • I noticed your last two political donations were to Democrats after a decade and a half of almost solid GOP giving? What was your rationale in doing so, given you have a message which is somewhat conservative?

I received Rob’s reply yesterday, which I am presenting in its entirety:

Thanks for your interest in my campaign. I am pleased by the support I have received so far and attribute it to the fact that my message resonates with many people in our state who are tired of politics as usual.

With regard to my decision to become an independent, I have lost my faith in both parties to fairly represent people’s needs today. Our economy is in trouble, and I see few solutions offered either by Republicans or Democrats. That is why I am trying something different. I think a lot of people share my thinking on this, let’s see as the campaign continues.

I have personally supported Republicans and Democrats in the past in cases where I believed the individual offered something important in the respective races. We should all be able to declare our independence in this state. Only by creating more jobs and getting our economy going again will we restore the quality of life we’d be proud to pass onto our children. At the end of the day, that is our duty, and it is more important than any party ideology.

I’m sorry Rob feels that way about the Republican Party, as I see it as the most viable vehicle to represent what the people truly want and need to have to prosper – freedom and liberty. And while he’s correct in assessing the fact our economy is in the dumper, the question of whether what he is proposing as a cure will work still needs to be explained a little more to me. Brian Griffiths at Red Maryland makes an interesting case that Sobhani should run for a different office in a post which could otherwise do well as a hit piece:

…to me, the role that Sobhani is suggesting he fill as a U.S. Senator is generally filled by a Governor. Because it is the Governor who is more directly responsible for creating economic development within the state. Furthermore, I sure as heck don’t want a U.S. Senator who thinks that his role is to go to Washington and send the bacon home to Maryland, no matter where the money is coming from.

But the statement  Sobhani makes about adding to races is more telling, and perhaps explains well why he’s gone from staunch support of Republicans to backing Democrats. I’m not sure what Steve Cohen adds to his race since he’s in a D+23 district anyway, but Pooran shares Sobhani’s Iranian heritage.

Yet in order to have a chance to do as Rob says and “restore the quality of life we’d be proud to pass onto our children” it seems to me there should be a set of guiding principles involved. Rob oversimplifies this by saying on his campaign site that:

The parties are both locked into narrow ideological agendas that prevent them from talking to one another or working together for meaningful solutions. As an Independent, I’m not beholden to either political party. I hope to bring people of goodwill from both parties together.

One man’s “ideological agenda” is another’s principles, and among Republicans we should hold these truths to be self-evident and we should sell out our core beliefs to no one. NO ONE. There really is no middle ground between freedom and tyranny.

And don’t we have a President who promised to be “post-partisan?” That lasted about as long as it took for a Republican to show some backbone and be greeted by the President saying “I won.” Compromise, rather than fealty to the principles which made our nation strong, has placed us where we are now.

There is one other observation for me to make, and if Rob chooses to hold his cards close to the vest on this point I suppose I can understand. But it’s another question which should be asked.

Over the last few years in the Senate, there have been two independents: Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. While the are ostensibly unaffiliated, in reality both have caucused with the Democrats as Sanders is an avowed Socialist while Lieberman was once a Democratic vice-presidential nominee and won his seat in 2006 despite losing in the Democratic primary and re-entering the race as an independent.

So let’s say Sobhani defies the odds and pulls the upset. Will he caucus with the Republicans because that’s his traditional political home and the side from which he seems to be pulling more support, or will he caucus with the Democrats based on the fact his Senior Senator is in that caucus? Or will he wait and see other results so he can gravitate to the winning side? Imagine the scenario of Mitt Romney winning the White House but the Democrats controlling the Senate by a 50-49 margin – will he sell his position to the highest bidder like just another business deal?

At some point he’s going to have to choose.

It’s a shame, though, that it appears Dan Bongino doesn’t want to include Rob Sobhani in the debates (at least that’s how the AP story depicts it.) Let Rob’s voice be heard, and let him answer some tough questions. I’m sure I would have some more.

Ben Cardin’s been in office for 46 years, and Dan Bongino has been on the campaign trail for 16 months. If money can buy a Senate seat, I suppose we will find out from a guy who’s barely been at it for six months and only officially announced four weeks ago.

Update: Mark Newgent at Red Maryland has unearthed the pitch sheet Sobhani used to gather signatures. I didn’t know that Rob was “pro-choice and supports gay rights,” did you? I’ll concede that, indeed, these issues are less important than fixing the economy (although Sobhani’s plan is dubious in itself – after all, wasn’t Solyndra a sort of public-private partnership?) but America is also better-served by those who believe in upholding traditional morals.

The third man

The U.S. Senate race in Maryland became a lot more complicated when businessman Rob Sobhani formally kicked off his campaign last week.

Sobhani, who petitioned his way onto the ballot by gathering over 77,000 signatures, announced his bid in a three-city tour last Tuesday. And while he’s slowly built his self-financed campaign over the spring and summer, he comes into the race with an issues page which reads as relatively conservative in some areas, more moderate in others.

Most of what he has spent of the $227,000 he’d loaned to his campaign through June 30 went to gathering the signatures for his petitions, so the signatures amassed at a cost of over $100,000 weren’t necessarily through a grassroots effort like those to place several issues on the November docket. Yet Rob got them and made it to the ballot, so apparently there is a group in Maryland who wants to think outside the two-party box. (It would be revealing to find out the overall political configuration of the signers, though.)

It’s also interesting to hear – admittedly, this is second-hand hearsay so you can assign whatever credibility you wish to it – that the Sobhani campaign was paying $4 per signature to out-of-state petition signature gatherers. He turned in 77,000 signatures when he needed 37,128, with roughly 1/8 of the required number coming from each Congressional district. If this $4 allegation is true, though, it will be very interesting reading when we see Sobhani’s next financial report since the current one is the June 30 filing and he needed to have signatures in to the state Board of Elections by the August 6 deadline he met.

There are also questions posed by blogger Jim Jamitis regarding Sobhani’s role in CNN’s “dubious journalistic practice of accepting ‘sponsorships’ from the very regimes they are supposedly investigating.” While Jamitis can be perceived as a biased observer because he has volunteered as a producer of online videos for opponent Dan Bongino, he still raises a valid set of queries.

Moreover, Rob is no stranger to politics, having made runs as a Republican for the U.S. Senate in 1992 and 2000, finishing fifth and second with 6% and 17% of the vote, respectively. So he’s not exactly an outsider, but he either decided he probably wasn’t going to win a Republican primary or that the GOP brand in Maryland was too tarnished.

To burnish his independent credentials, it’s worth noting that the two-time Republican candidate’s last political donation went to Democrat Milad Pooran, who was an also-ran in the Sixth District Congressional primary this spring. The $1000 donation was given last December, with a Potomac mailing address which matched the address given for Sobhani’s 2000 Senate campaign.

And it’s interesting what I’ve found about that 2000 campaign.

In October 1999, Sobhani was the beneficiary of a fundraiser put on by the Iranian-American Republican Council, San Francisco Chapter. Of course, it’s not terribly unusual for a candidate to attend an out-of-state fundraiser for a federal office, but some of what is attributed to Sobhani under “Issues of Interest to Americans of Iranian descent” is intriguing:

We asked Rob Sobhani (candidate for U.S. Senate from Maryland) to tell the Iranian-Americans about some of the issues that he will address if he is elected:

  • Taxation without representation.
  • Ending the demonizing and stereotyping of Iran and Iranians.
  • Streamlining non-immigrant visa requirements for Iranians applying to visit relatives and loved-ones in the United States.
  • Giving Iranians the choice of applying at any American embassy and consulate abroad for a non-immigrant visa.
  • Ending the harassment of Iranians entering and leaving the United States for the simple reason of being an Iranian.
  • Abolishing the current IRS codes and replacing it with a flat tax of 17% on personal income would help many Americans of Iranian descent who are self-employed or owners of a small business.

If all Americans of Iranian descent united . . .

Rob Sobhani added to the above that: Also, if elected, I will establish satellite offices in California under the umbrella of “Khan-e-Iran” to assist American-Iranians with their problems.

There’s more where that came from, although the latter article contains an interesting anecdote about how Rob went from campaign volunteer to staffer for former Congressman Connie Morella.

But isn’t the idea of America “E Pluribus Unum“? Making a protected class out of Iranian-Americans doesn’t make them any more American, just more protected. Imagine if an officeholder did the same for members of a particular religion or a more common ethnicity, such as Germans or Poles like myself.

It’s also interesting to see that Rob’s taxation stance hasn’t changed a whole lot in the last twelve years, although instead of 17% on everyone it’s now 15% on almost everyone, or as he now states:

I favor a simple, 15% flat rate for most working Americans.  Those who are making a lot more can pay a little more.

Why? I think we should all pay the same rate as a consumption tax – that’s the most fair solution.

I also fail to understand how a public-private partnership doesn’t use taxpayer money, since Sobhani is pledging to create over 100,000 jobs primarily through that vehicle. I suppose I need a little enlightenment on that point.

Of course, the real question is this: since Dan Bongino announced his candidacy long before Sobhani decided to jump back into the political arena – Rob started the campaign Facebook page April 25 and filed with the State Board of Elections on June 25 – coupled with the fact that his last political activity was a sizable donation to a Democratic candidate, is it possible that Sobhani is a stalking horse for Ben Cardin? With the success of Dan Bongino’s campaign becoming obvious after his April 3 primary win, perhaps our friend Ben needed a little insurance policy?

Granted, with his late start and limited funding Sobhani will be fortunate to crack double digits come November. But if those digits come out of the Bongino camp, Republicans may suffer a heartbreaking defeat in a race which was winnable.

Primary crystal ball predictions

Just for the heck of it, I’m going to do my set of predictions on some key races locally and around the state. In the past we did this among ourselves at the Central Committee meetings but we didn’t discuss it last night. So tell me what you think, and if I turn out to be wrong – well, don’t laugh too much. Most of this is a (somewhat) educated guess.

I’m going to begin with the Presidential race, on a statewide level. There have already been several polls on this, so there’s a little bit of cheating involved; then again, the polls actually pretty much mirrored my gut instinct all along.

In Maryland, I see the race like this:

  1. Mitt Romney – 41%
  2. Rick Santorum – 28%
  3. Newt Gingrich – 16%
  4. Ron Paul – 11%
  5. Fred Karger – 2%
  6. Rick Perry – <1%
  7. Buddy Roemer – <1%
  8. Jon Huntsman – <1%

The polls seem to have Romney winning bigger (Rasmussen has it 45-28) but I think Mitt’s people will tend to figure he’s got it in the bag and turnout will be better in certain areas where Gingrich and Paul may run a little stronger.

How about Wicomico County? This is more of a crapshoot but I think the top 4 results will be a little different:

  1. Rick Santorum – 35%
  2. Mitt Romney – 33%
  3. Newt Gingrich – 18%
  4. Ron Paul – 13%

The voters here tend to be more conservative than the state at large.

The other statewide race is for U.S. Senate. Now I’m really going to go out on a limb here, because there aren’t any polls I’m aware of (aside from the sure fact campaigns have internal polling I’m not privy to) but my gut is telling me we may have a barnburner on our hands:

  1. Dan Bongino – 36%
  2. Richard Douglas – 34%
  3. Robert Broadus – 8%
  4. Corrogan Vaughn – 5%
  5. Joseph Alexander – 4%
  6. David Jones – 4%
  7. William Capps – 3%
  8. Rick Hoover – 3%
  9. John Kimble – 2%
  10. Brian Vaeth – 1%

In Wicomico County, I suspect the top three will be Bongino (42%), Douglas (36%), and Broadus (8%). None of the others will be over 3 percent. Incumbent Ben Cardin will be the opponent, with the over-under line for me being 70% of the statewide vote.

And how about the Sixth District race? It’s the most talked-about Congressional primary since the 2008 First District primary, with the added benefit of mud flying on both sides.

On the Republican side, I think Roscoe Bartlett will hold on to his seat with 33% of the vote, with David Brinkley gathering 29%, Joseph Krysztforski 14%, Robin Ficker 10%, and Kathy Afzali 7%. The other three will split the remaining 7%.

What saves Bartlett’s bacon is the fact that there are so many in the race that people may just throw up their hands and go with the name they know. If there were just four or five in the race I think Brinkley has a shot, although the last-minute release of 9-1-1 tapes featuring his ex-wife may knock a point or two away from Brinkley and provide Roscoe’s margin of victory. It’s the voters on the extreme western end of the district who are likely most swayed by that because they don’t really know David that well.

On the Democratic side, I’m sensing a bit of an upset. We figured that this seat was drawn for Rob Garagiola, but I suspect the charges laid against him by John Delaney have done enough damage that Delaney will squeak out a close win, something on the order of 31-30. Milad Pooran will likely run a respectable third with 21%, while Ron Little grabs 10% and Charles Bailey the last 8%.

The Second District GOP race is also interesting, but I think Nancy Jacobs will win it with relative ease, probably with 40% or so of the vote. Larry Smith comes in around 28%, Rick Impallaria with 19%, and the other two with single digits apiece.

Meanwhile, I think John LaFerla will be the First District Democratic nominee against Andy Harris and he’ll end up just short of a majority – 49% district-wide against Wendy Rosen’s 43%. Kim Letke will get the last 8%. What puts LaFerla over the top in the primary is the endorsement of Wayne Gilchrest. What keeps him from winning in November is being endorsed by NARAL and Planned Parenthood.

GOP winners in other districts will be Eric Knowles (3rd), Faith Loudon (4th), Tony O’Donnell (5th), Frank Mirabile (7th), and Dave Wallace (8th). Wallace gets the nod because the other three candidates will likely split the Montgomery County vote just enough for him to win over Ken Timmerman. Of course, there will not be any upsets among the incumbent Democrats – all of them will get over 75% in their respective primaries.

So what do you think? Am I all wet or do I have a good chance of being correct – and why? As opposed to yesterday, I’m going to leave this up all day until results come in.

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