By Glynis Kazanjian
An independent political group seeking to elect a handful of candidates to shift the balance of power in the U.S. Senate will support Montgomery County businessman Neal Simon in a bid to unseat Democratic incumbent Sen. Ben Cardin if Simon runs.
“I can confirm we’re aware that Neal is thinking about running for U.S. Senate,” Centrist Project Executive Director Nick Troiano said. “We see him as a man of conscience and philanthropy and a very successful business career –someone who has deep experience in solving complex problems.”
Simon, CEO and principal of Bronfman Rothschild, an investment management firm in Rockville, would not respond to inquiries about his potential run for Senate. But Troiano said Simon has had discussions with Centrist Project about running, and they have encouraged him to seriously consider it. Simon is registered “unaffiliated.”
The Centrist Project, founded in 2013, supports a philosophy that independent candidates can be a catalyst in Congress to disrupt political dysfunction, break gridlock of the two-party system and serve the American public instead of party bosses and special interests.
“What’s striking about Neal is his desire to be part of the solution when it comes to our broken politics,” Troiano said. “We have been working this year to recruit, provide support and eventually help elect extraordinary independent leaders to the U.S Senate to break through the partisan dysfunction.”
Troiano said the Centrist Project will try to level the playing field for candidates who cannot match the power of a major party candidate. He said the group is in the process of raising significant funding to both directly support candidates and to spend through outside efforts.
“The challenge the candidate is facing is that they don’t have access to the same infrastructure and network as major party candidates do,” Troiano said. “The Centrist Project is trying to level the playing field for independent candidates by providing a support network, donor network and electoral infrastructure so they can run competitive campaigns.”
Cardin presumed to running
Cardin is presumed to be running for a third term next year. He has been actively raising money, over $1.1 million since the beginning of the year, and he had close to $2 million cash on hand at the end of September. He has kept up a heavy schedule of official and political appearances, including marching in parades.
Cardin, 74, has held elected office in Maryland for over 50 years, first elected to the House of Delegates at the age of 23 where he eventually served as speaker, then 20 years in the U.S. House of Representatives before his election to the Senate in 2006. He is now the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Sue Walitsky, speaking for the Cardin campaign, said: “Senator Cardin has no comment on individuals who may or may not decide to run for the U.S. Senate. He continues his work representing the people of Maryland as our state’s senior senator and he looks forward to a vigorous debate of the issues over the next year.”
Tough for an independent
National political pollster, Kyle Kondik of Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, said an independent running against Cardin in deep blue Maryland would face an uphill battle. Cardin’s Senate is rated as “Safe Democrat,” according to the Crystal Ball.
“It’s very hard to win as an independent candidate, and Cardin is a Democrat with no apparent major problems running in a Democratic state in what is shaping up to be a Democratic-leaning year,” Kondik said. “Simon has his work cut out for him. He will need to spend millions just to build his name ID, let alone compete.“
The independent Cook Political Report considers Cardin’s seat one of those “solid” for Democrats, meaning “These races are not considered competitive and are not likely to become closely contested.
In 2006, Cardin got 54% of the vote against Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Steele. In 2012, Cardin won re-election with 56% of the vote in a three-way-race. The Republican challenger, Dan Bongino, got 26% of the vote and independent challenger Rob Sobhani, received 16% of the vote, spending millions of his own money, as Simon might be able to do.
The Centrist Project is also supporting independent candidates in gubernatorial races. It has endorsed independent Gov. Bill Walker of Alaska, who is running for re-election, and Terry Hayes, the treasurer of Maine, who is running as an independent for governor.
Troiano said hundreds of people across the nation have contacted the Centrist Project expressing an interest in running for office. After dozens of conversations, the group is currently only backing a dozen or so.
“From health care to taxes, we are not seeing sustainable smart policy being crafted,” Troiano said.”One party is committed to undoing what the other party did, and the Democrats will be as likely committed to the repeal of any tax legislation that Republicans pass, so a few independents can change that by forcing cooperation and forcing compromise.”
Besides working in finance, Simon has served as the board chair for the Greater Washington Community Foundation, the Community Foundation of Montgomery County and Interfaith Works, according to his biography on the Bronfman Rothschild website.
In 2016, Interfaith Works honored Simon and his wife Jennifer with the Humanitarians of the year award, shown in this Facebook video. Simon lives in Potomac with his wife and three children. In the 2014 election cycle, he contributed $2,000 to the campaign of now-Attorney General Brian Frosh, $500 to Attorney General Doug Gansler for governor, and $250 to Sen. Cheryl Kagan.
“I think it’s an exciting possibility that the voters of Maryland may get another option besides the status quo if Neal decides to run,” Troiano said.