WASHINGTON – Montgomery County businessman Rob Sobhani is expected to announce his candidacy Wednesday for the U.S. Senate, making him the fifth Republican to challenge Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Baltimore, for his seat in 2000.
State GOP officials welcome the competition, saying it will help them select the best nominee. But political analysts said that none of the Republicans who have announced a bid, or are still considering running, have much of a chance in a race against a four-term incumbent.
“I’m not sure that any candidate in the state could beat Sarbanes, especially any of these guys,” said Allan J. Lichtman, chairman of the history department at American University. “For the foreseeable future, [this] Senate seat is going to remain Democratic.”
But Paul Ellington, executive director of the Maryland GOP, said the growing field of candidates will help the Republicans mount a good campaign against Sarbanes.
“I think it’s always good for the party to have a competitive primary,” Ellington said. “That way you get the best candidate possible…. You’ve got a lot of new faces here.”
Besides Sobhani, the new faces include Kenneth R. Timmerman, an investigative reporter from Montgomery County, and Carroll County businessman Kenneth L. Wayman, who has formed an exploratory committee but has not said whether he will run.
The other announced Republicans are not-so-new faces: Robin Ficker, a former state delegate from Montgomery County; Ross Z. Pierpont, a retired Baltimore County physician, who has run for office over a dozen times; and Paul Rappaport, a former Howard County police chief.
Rappaport, who was the party’s nominee for lieutenant governor in 1994 and attorney general in 1998, is generally considered the front-runner in the Senate primary. Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research said that none of the other declared candidates “carry enough weight” to take the nomination from Rappaport.
Rappaport said Tuesday that his campaign will do well “whether there’s one other candidate or 10,” and that he is not threatened by Pierpont’s ability to win state primaries.
“We believe we have the grass-roots support that will help us win,” Rappaport said. “I know for a fact that we have some people supporting us who supported Pierpont last time [when he challenged Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski in 1998].”
But Pierpont insisted Tuesday that his name recognition and his health- care platform will carry him into the general election in November. Coker agreed that Pierpont “will bring a lot of name recognition.”
“But I still think Rappaport will win,” Coker said. “He’ll have to work a little harder, but I think he’ll win. Rappaport’s going to run a pretty high- profile campaign.”
Pierpont has run more than a dozen times in races around the state, but he has never won a general election, despite repeated wins in Republican primaries.
“He’s as close as the Republicans have to a perpetual candidate,” Lichtman said. “He might win the primary, but there’s no way he’ll beat Sarbanes.”
But Pierpont and other candidates say they would not be in the race if they could not beat Sarbanes.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I could win,” said Sobhani, whose main priority in the Senate would be to link Maryland’s economy with the high- tech global economy. Sobhani has never run for elected office before but said that could help him in the election.
“I’m not a career politician,” he said. “Most of us are not known to the voters, but that’s our task: to get the voters to know us.”
Although Timmerman has said he thinks the field will narrow before the primary election, Lichtman said that the size of the field does not matter.
“It’s not the number of candidates,” he said. “It’s the quality of the candidates, and the Republicans have not had high-quality candidates for a while.”
But Ficker said it’s not the quality of the candidates now that matters, but the quality of the party’s nominee.
“I don’t think it really matters how many [candidates] there are,” Ficker said. “It just takes one good one to beat Mr. Sarbanes.”
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