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Following a surprisingly strong showing by independent U.S. Senate candidate Rob Sobhani in a recent poll, Republican Daniel Bongino is questioning the “real motives” behind Sobhani’s entry into the race.

In the poll conducted late last month by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies of Annapolis, Bongino had the support of 22 percent of registered voters while Sobhani, who has blitzed the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., television markets with ads, garnered 21 percent.

Incumbent Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) leads both candidates at 50 percent in the heavily Democratic state. The poll had a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

“Why has he been in only such a short time?” Bongino said of Sobhani. “At this point, there is really no math for him to win, but there is math for him to be a spoiler.”

Sobhani, who announced his candidacy Sept. 4, has not been properly vetted by the media, Bongino said.

With a self-financed campaign, Sobhani has managed to build name recognition quickly despite two previously unsuccessful bids in Republican primaries.

Although he ran as a Republican in the past, Sobhani has contributed to Democratic candidates more recently, said Bongino, who retired from the U.S. Secret Service before launching his bid and winning the Republican primary in April.

Bongino said Sobhani’s entry stalled the momentum his campaign had just begun to build, but he does not think Cardin encouraged Sobhani to enter the race.

“I know Ben Cardin. I think he’s a gentleman. I don’t think he’d do that,” Bongino said. “But what are Sobhani’s real motives?”

Sobhani’s motives for entering the race are to win it, change Maryland politics and do what benefits the state, said Sam Patten, his spokesman.

In his TV ads, Sobhani has promised to find new markets for $1 billion worth of Maryland products that would generate 7,000 jobs. He also wants to make the state the leader in cancer research.

Sobhani, who earned his doctorate in political economy and has lived the past 33 years in Montgomery County, founded the Caspain Group Holdings and has done work in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and other countries.

He also has written opinion columns for CNN, The Hill, The Washington Times and other publications.

Matthew Crenson, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University, said the question Maryland voters have for Sobhani isn’t about his background but on how he intends to increase jobs in the state.

Marylanders know Cardin because for 44 years, he has served in the State House, the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate. Bongino, meanwhile, could hurt his own campaign by going after Sobhani too hard, Crenson said. “It begins to look like sour grapes,” he added.

But it makes sense for Bongino and Sobhani to target each other and to urge the other to drop out, said Todd E. Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

“The Gonzales poll showed Cardin at 50 percent, and both of them believe if the other wasn’t in it they would have the other 50 percent,” Eberly said.

What is likely to happen is Bongino and Sobhani will beat each other up, which will decrease their own votes and increase Cardin’s, Eberly said.

Cardin spokeswoman Sue Walitsky said the senator is focusing on his own campaign and not that of the other candidates.

“He is running the same race, whether running against one person or five people,” she said.

Adam Hoffman, director of Public Affairs and Civic Engagement at Salisbury University, said Bongino’s problem is not Sobhani but that he has not unified the Republican base behind his campaign.

Bongino had 60 percent support among Republicans in the poll, while Sobhani had the backing of 22 percent and Cardin 9 percent.

Cardin had the support of 74 percent of Democrats and 39 percent of independents. Sobhani was backed by 38 percent of independents. Bongino was supported by 10 percent of independents.

Bongino said the Republican support will return the closer the election gets and that a new advertising buy next week will help publicize his campaign’s message.

“We’re going to get our Republican voters out,” Bongino said. “We’re going to get our independents in this race.”

cford@gazette.net