U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin is not slick. You won't find him on the Sunday morning network talk shows very often. He isn't a partisan quote-machine. He doesn't give an especially stirring stump speech.
But what Mr. Cardin does have is more valuable than that. He is a man of substance and integrity who understands complicated issues and the art of compromise. More than ever, the U.S. Senate needs such leaders, and that's why we proudly endorse him for a second term.
Senator Cardin is a familiar presence on the Maryland political scene. From his days in Annapolis, where he served as speaker of the House of Delegates, to his eight terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, he has devoted himself to some of the most vital but often complex matters of the 21st century, particularly Medicare and health care, Social Security and retirement savings, tax policy, job training and the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay.
To call him wonkish is to shortchange his expertise. He is the wonk of Maryland public policy. Perhaps more than any other elected official, he has been known to show up at local schools, churches, temples, country clubs, right-wing talk shows or wherever there is a discussion of important issues and to give the same reasoned arguments to his detractors that he would offer his supporters.
That's because there is only one Ben Cardin, and what you see is what you get. Even his own commercials, which place him in such unlikely venues as a waterman's boat, seem to not quite capture him. In a rumpled suit and tie, scuffed Oxford shoes and needing a haircut while carefully explaining why investing Social Security funds in the stock market is not a good idea? That's the Senator Cardin Maryland knows.
Mr. Cardin's opponents have nowhere near his expertise. Daniel Bongino, a former U.S. Secret Service agent, is a young, likable fledgling politician who could have a bright future but would do well to gain experience in lower office. He is conservative but not dogmatic and has made an admirable commitment to public service. The Maryland Republican Party could use more such candidates, particularly in the State House, where Mr. Bongino could become much better steeped in issues affecting Maryland.
Businessman S. Rob Sobhani, who is running as an independent candidate, has invested millions of dollars of his own money in the race and offered two messages: First, that partisan politics has made Washington dysfunctional and he would be apart from that (even though he has run for office twice previously as a Republican); and second, that he would bring jobs to Maryland, chiefly it appears, by attracting foreign investment.
Whether Mr. Sobhani can accomplish such a feat or not, the candidate does not demonstrate a sufficient knowledge of foreign or domestic policy to warrant serious consideration for such a high office. His enthusiasm is appreciated — as is his willingness to buck the two-party system — but like Mr. Bongino, his experience pales next to the incumbent's.
The U.S. Senate is not the place for a starter job in politics. It already has enough shallow-minded members who spend their days seeking a higher national profile by slamming the other party or going before the TV cameras half-cocked but never in doubt.
We would likely recommend Mr. Cardin on his voting record alone. He is the left-of-center antidote to the Republican majority in the House that sees the rich as worthy of more tax breaks and the middle class as unworthy of affordable health care. He is part of a Democratic majority in the Senate that has prevented much of the nonsensical legislation that has passed muster in the House from showing up on President Barack Obama's desk.
That said, it is also Mr. Cardin's nature to seek compromise where possible. That was true of his pragmatic days in Annapolis, and it is still true today. Ask any Republican — he is not a politician with a list of enemies behind him. He simply doesn't work like that.
When Congress reconvenes, it will need desperately to take up matters of budget and spending, particularly the future of entitlement programs, to avert the so-called fiscal cliff. Few elected officials are better qualified to make those decisions than Mr. Cardin. For the sake of the state and the nation, Maryland voters would be wise to return him to office.