Rob Sobhani, Independent

Rob Sobhani, Independent (September 20, 2012)

Arguing that the two-party system is corrupt, a Montgomery County businessman is pouring his own money into an independent bid for the U.S. Senate from Maryland.

Rob Sobhani, 52, who announced his candidacy this month, is the first candidate to buy television ads in the general election race for the seat now held by Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat. The spots have been aired heavily in Baltimore and Washington.

"Our politics is broken," Sobhani, a political economist and energy entrepreneur from Potomac, says in one 30-second spot. "How do we fix our economy, create jobs and restore our future? Career politicians, Democrats and Republicans, just blame each other and cater to special interests. ... We need to shake things up."

Sobhani turned in 77,000 signatures to the Maryland Board of Elections to get his name on the Nov. 6 ballot as an independent. He has spent $1.5 million of his own money on airtime in the Baltimore and Washington markets.

In his campaign headquarters in an office tower in Bethesda, Sobhani explained his motivations for running.

"I love this country," he said. "My family had to escape the persecution in Iran when the revolution happened. So they were given a second chance here in the United States. ... "I've always wanted to give back."

Born in Kansas to Iranian parents, Sobhani grew up there, in Turkey and in Iran. The family returned to the United States after the Islamic Revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, and he earned bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees at Georgetown University.

He faces an uphill climb running for Senate. Independent candidates — running without the support of the organized parties and their networks of fundraisers, strategists, field operatives and volunteers — seldom win election to Congress.

The three independents now serving in the Senate are an unusually high number for modern times. They include Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, who served three terms as a Democrat (and was the party's nominee for vice president) before losing a primary in 2006 and running as an independent.

Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was the daughter of a longtime GOP senator and governor who won a Senate term herself as a Republican before losing a primary in 2010 and mounting a write-in campaign as an independent.

The third independent senator is Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a self-described democratic socialist who served four terms as mayor of Burlington, the state's largest city, and eight terms as Vermont's sole member of the House of Representatives before winning election to the Senate in 2006 — a race in which he was endorsed by Sens. Barack Obama, Harry Reid and Charles E. Schumer, and other top Democrats.

Sobhani's political history includes Republican primary losses to Alan Keyes for Senate in 1992 and Paul Rappaport for Senate in 2000.

The political website RealClearPolitics, the Rothenberg Political Report and other independent analysts consider Maryland a safe state for the incumbent, Cardin.

"Senator Cardin is running his race the same way he has before," Cardin spokeswoman Sue Walitsky said. "He continues to travel around the state, to talk to constituents, to talk to voters, to talk about his accomplishments over the last five and a half, six years in the Senate.

"Whether there is one candidate running against him or five candidates running against him, he will continue his race."

After Sobhani announced his run, the Cardin campaign sent a fundraising email to supporters warning of a new, "self-funded opponent."

Dan Bongino, the Republican challenger, calls Sobhani "a great guy, a very nice guy," but said, "it's tough to purchase a race."

"You have to develop a volunteer force, a team willing to go out there, look the voters in the eye, say, 'This is my candidate, here's why I support him.' Can you win an election 50 days out just with television commercials? We've been knocking on doors for 16 months."

Sobhani acknowledges the challenge, but says he sees a path to victory.

"I'm not spending my hard-earned money to lose." Voters deserve "a third alternative," he said, because "both political parties have let us down."