- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
As a former college professor, U.S. Senate candidate Rob Sobhani seemed right at home Wednesday speaking before a couple of political science classes at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
Running as an independent, Sobhani decried the country’s political system as broken and encouraged students to buck “the establishment,” but he spent the bulk of his time breaking down the crux of his platform — a promise to bring $5.5 billion in private investment to the state.
“Thank God for blackboard and chalk,” Sobhani said before covering the slate with dollar figures and crude diagrams.
In addition to $3 billion in infrastructure upgrades, including a rapid transit line linking Western Maryland with Montgomery County, Sobhani pledged to increase the state’s exports by $1 billion, secure $1 billion in public-private partnerships to build 25,000 homes along a depressed section of Harford Road in Baltimore, and attract $650 million from global nonprofits — $500 million for cancer research and another $150 million to fund 15,000 internships and scholarships for low-income high school graduates.
Sobhani has pledged to not seek a second term if he is elected and does not make good on his $5.5 billion promise.
A former Georgetown University professor, Sobhani, 52, was born in Kansas to Iranian immigrants. He spent his early childhood in Iran before his parents moved back to the United States.
He describes himself as moderate-to-liberal on social issues — he supports gay and abortion rights — and a fiscal conservative.
Recent polls show about half of the state’s voters in support of Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), with the remaining half nearly split between Sobhani and Republican candidate Dan Bongino.
But Sobhani shared his campaign’s internal polling results with a class taught by professor Susan Grogan, showing him with 35 percent support, behind Cardin at 41 percent but ahead of Bongino at 24 percent.
He also told Grogan’s class the story of how in 1990, after giving a lecture in Azerbaijan, the country’s president had asked to meet with him. At the time, Azerbaijan was negotiating rights to the Azeri oil field in the Caspian Sea, and Sobhani, as chronicled in “The Oil and the Glory” by Steve LeVine, suggested the president go with Amoco, a U.S. company.
Amoco was granted exclusive rights to the oil field a year later, and today Sobhani is chairman and CEO of Caspian Group Holdings, which invests in energy projects. He speaks French, Farsi and Azari in addition to English, and believes his foreign policy experience would be a valuable asset in Congress.
“The Senate needs leadership and vision when it comes to foreign policy issues,” he said.
Independently wealthy, Sobhani acknowledged that his ability to personally pay for a flood of television ads has helped him build a legitimate candidacy, but he thinks voters’ thirst for an independent voice has been the true catalyst behind his campaign.
“I think people are fed up with these guys on both sides,” he said.
As an independent, Sobhani said he wouldn’t be beholden to Democrats or Republicans and that his vote, if elected, would be extremely valuable in a legislative body with relative balance between the two parties.
“If our candidacy is successful, Maryland will have started a revolution, by electing an independent in a blue state,” Sobhani told Grogan’s students.
The visit was the latest in a series by U.S. Senate candidates to Grogan’s classes. Bongino spoke to one last month, and Libertarian candidate Imad “Dean” Ahmad is set for an appearance next week. Cardin has agreed to swing by the college after the election, Grogan said.
“It provides them an opportunity to link theory and practice,” Grogan said. “They read about it in their texts, but nothing beats the real life experience, for them to observe how a candidate makes his appeals to the voters, how a candidate emphasizes various proposals and their qualifications for why they should be voted for.”
Sobhani repeated his pledge to a class taught by professor Michael Cain, director of the college’s Center for the Study of Democracy, who was a bit skeptical of the candidate’s internal polling numbers.
“I think internal polls are always difficult to read and frequently are biased towards a candidate, especially internal polls that are released by candidates are very difficult to believe,” Cain said. “Running against Sen. Cardin, he’s certainly got really strong winds that he’s facing ands it’s hard to believe that an independent candidate can really prevail in a such a Democratic state, but anything is possible in elections. By other polling numbers, he still had a lot ground to make up in order to defeat Sen. Cardin.”