Veteran Sen. Cardin defeats two challengers

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin won a second term Tuesday despite a spirited and well-funded campaign from one opponent and a multimillion-dollar advertising blitz from another.

A known commodity in Maryland politics for more than 40 years, Cardin, a Democrat, aligned himself closely with the policies of President Barack Obama. Given the state's political leanings, that made the junior senator one of the safest incumbents in the nation.

"The key to the next term, certainly the next two years, is that we have to get very serious about our deficit — we've got to work across party lines," Cardin said in an interview.

The more compelling political contest became the race for second place — pitting newcomer Republican Daniel Bongino against independent Rob Sobhani. A late entrant, Sobhani spent millions of dollars of his own money blanketing the Baltimore and Washington media markets with television and radio ads.

Early, unofficial results showed Bongino with a wide lead over Sobhani.

Though many considered the race Cardin's to lose, the 69-year-old Pikesville resident ran an aggressive campaign. He spoke at senior centers and attended rallies across the state, participated in two debates and aired a sophisticated ad campaign that played to the lawmaker's reputation in Congress as a workhorse, rather than showman.

Cardin, a former speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates and U.S. House member, is likely to confront a complicated second term. As a member of the Senate Finance and Budget committees, he will play a role in crafting a deal to avert the nation's looming fiscal crisis. But as a member of Maryland's delegation, he will have to balance that obligation against demands made by an important constituency that is often on the chopping block: federal employees.

A leading voice in Washington on water-quality issues — particularly the Chesapeake Bay cleanup — Cardin has advocated for a "balanced approach" of taxes and spending cuts to deal with budget deficits. Bongino took a hard-line stance against new taxes and vowed to repeal the 2010 health care law. Sobhani centered his campaign around a plan to bring private investment into the state as a way to boost the economy.

Bongino, 37, took the state GOP by storm with his candidacy. The former U.S. Secret Service agent and Severna Park resident offered a compelling background and a rousing stump speech that made him both a darling of the national conservative talk-show circuit as well as an inspiring figure for many Republican voters. After receiving endorsements from Sarah Palin and South Carolina conservative Sen. Jim DeMint, he also began to raise more campaign cash than Cardin.

"We are disappointed, but we ran a race we are proud of," Bongino said. "Senator Cardin is a class act, and although we had political differences, they were never personal." 

Bongino initially had a distant relationship with some of his party's establishment leaders, but many Republican stalwarts began rallying to his side after Potomac businessman Sobhani showed up at the State Board of Elections in September with enough signatures to put his name on the ballot as an independent. Sobhani, 52, ran as a Republican candidate for Senate in 1992 and 2000.

In the final weeks of the campaign, Bongino and Sobhani began directing fire at each other. The lack of focus on Cardin caused many to speculate that both men were posturing for a statewide run down the road, possibly for governor in 2014. The candidates themselves dismissed such talk.

"The sand on which the institutional barriers to an independent candidacy rest are shifting, and soon the voices of those who have [been] left behind by our broken system will be heard in greater numbers," Sobhani spokesman Sam Patten said in a statement.

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