Independent Senate Candidate Neal Simon Seeks To Raise Profile with TV Ad Blitz

Rockville businessman’s efforts supplemented by PAC formed to promote his candidacy

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Neil Simon


Ramping up his bid to become the first independent candidate ever elected to the U.S. Senate from Maryland, Potomac businessman Neal Simon this month launched a six-figure TV advertising effort to introduce himself to Maryland voters.

Simon, taking aim at the seat now held by Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Baltimore, spent a little more than $160,000 on a two-week ad campaign on Baltimore’s four over-the-air TV stations that wrapped up Monday, according to the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) public website. The effort featured a 30-second biographical ad of Simon—CEO of a Rockville-based financial management firm—that ran frequently during local morning and evening news programs.

Taking into account the Maryland counties included in the Baltimore television market, “the ad has been on in 55 percent of the state,” Simon said in a telephone interview Tuesday. He has yet to run ads on either over-the-air stations or cable systems in the more expensive Washington, D.C. TV market, but said, “We will go up in the rest of the state in the not too distant future.” Neither Cardin, seeking a third term in the Senate, nor the Republican nominee, Towson University lecturer Tony Campbell of Baltimore, have to date run paid TV advertising.

The efforts of Simon’s personal campaign committee, “Neal Simon for U.S. Senate,” have been supplemented by an independent expenditure political action committee (PAC) created two months ago to promote his candidacy. The PAC, “People Over Politics,” which derives its name from Simon’s campaign slogan, reported spending $100,000 on its own for TV time, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission at the end of July. The majority of this was for cable TV ads in Baltimore County, according to the FCC site. In addition, the PAC reported spending about $50,000 to purchase digital advertising on Simon’s behalf.

While independent expenditure PACs are barred from coordinating their activities with a candidate’s personal campaign committee, they have the advantage of being allowed to accept unlimited contributions from individuals as well as corporations and labor unions.

As of the end of June, People Over Politics reported raising a total $200,000 from a half-dozen individuals, according to FEC filings. Included on the list of donors are Peter Forster, a director of Bethesda-based Clark Construction, and Clifford White, a Rockville-based businessman who is a partner in Monumental Sports and Entertainment, the owner of the Washington Capitals and Wizards. Forster and White each contributed $25,000 to the PAC.

The biographical ad that Simon’s personal campaign committee aired this month was filmed in part at his home and office, with a concluding scene—featuring his large campaign bus—using the shopping center at the junction of Falls and River roads in Potomac as a backdrop.

“I’m Neal Simon. I’m the son of an immigrant and a family man,” he declares as he walks through his home and high-fives with his daughter. (Simon’s mother emigrated from Morocco as a teenager.) Later, walking through the Rockville offices of Bronfman Rothschild, the financial firm he heads, the 50-year-old Simon declares, “I’ve created high-paying jobs, right here in Maryland, by listening, bringing people together, finding common ground.

“And I’ll do the same thing as your senator. They say an outsider can’t do it, but together we’ll prove them wrong,” Simon vows as the scene switches to the shopping center, with a group of staff and supporters chiming in on “together”. Simon concludes with his main campaign slogan, “Let’s finally put people over politics.”

In the middle of the ad, Simon is shown walking down the National Mall. “…I’m running for the U.S. Senate, unaffiliated with any party because they’re playing partisan games and getting nothing done.” Without looking back, he gestures derisively with his thumb toward the U.S. Capitol behind him in the distance, declaring, “It’s crippling America.”

Simon, who has the support of national groups such as Unite America and No Labels that are actively encouraging independent candidates for governor and senator, appears to be running as much against the two-party system as Cardin.

“My problem is with the extreme party leaders and the legislators that follow them on a party line basis,” Simon said in Tuesday’s interview when asked about his differences with Cardin. “And Senator Cardin has voted with his party in the last complete session [of Congress] I think more than any Democratic senator except one. I want to represent the people of Maryland — not [Senate Democratic Leader] Chuck Schumer, not [Senate Republican Leader] Mitch McConnell. On almost every issue, we’re making no progress — and we’re getting nothing done.”

Cardin spokeswoman Sue Walitsky responded: “Senator Cardin stands up for his Democratic principles and values, especially when Republicans are trying to eliminate Obamacare or be on the side of polluters instead of Chesapeake Bay. But he also works regularly with Republicans like [Arizona Sen.] John McCain and [Mississippi Sen.] Roger Wicker on human rights [and] with [Wyoming Sen.] John Barrasso and [Idaho Sen.] Mike Crapo on water and environmental issues; He is working with [Iowa Sen. Charles] Grassley on health care issues.”

Added Walitsky, “One of the great things that Senator Cardin appreciates about being in the Senate is that you have that opportunity to work across the aisle, and he takes full advantage of it.”

While there has been no public polling in the race, the 74-year old Cardin, who has held public office for half a century and was first elected to the Senate in 2006, is widely seen as an overwhelming favorite to win another term with less than three months until Election Day.

Two Washington-based newsletters that closely track congressional races around the country, the Cook Political Report and Inside Elections, both put the Maryland Senate race in the “solid Democratic” category. And while Simon, who has pumped more than $500,000 of his own money into the contest so far, reported having more than $700,000 in his campaign treasury at the end of June, Cardin reported having more than $3 million in the bank as the fall campaign approaches. Campbell, a conservative who emerged from an 11-way Republican primary on June 26, has so far reported raising about $42,500 and had just $6,400 in his campaign treasury.

Simon declined to reveal how his campaign’s internal polling showed him doing against Cardin, but says he remains bullish on his prospects. “We know that there are enough voters out there who want the country to come together, and want leaders who put people over politics, that we can win,” he said. “First, 70 percent of Maryland voters will consider an unaffiliated candidate for Senate. And Senator Cardin’s approval ratings are below average and are very low, compared to, for example, our governor.”

Morning Consult, a national survey research firm, which regularly polls on the popularity of senators and governors in all 50 states, last month found that Cardin had a 47 percent approval rating among Maryland voters, putting him in a tie for 38th among 100 members of the Senate nationwide. (Maryland’s junior senator, Chris Van Hollen of Kensington was at 46 percent.) Meanwhile, Hogan scored more than a 70 percent approval rating in a Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies poll released Tuesday.

Simon appears to be seeking to tie himself to Hogan in the hope of attracting support from the same coalition of Republicans, independents and moderate Democrats that gave Hogan a 16-point lead over Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous in the Gonzales survey. Simon has hired Steve Crim, who managed Hogan’s 2014 campaign, to run his Senate bid, and while stopping short of a formal endorsement, said of Hogan, “I’d like to see him re-elected.”

Added Simon: “I think Governor Hogan has been good for the state. He is a Republican, but he has worked with the Democratic legislature…He’s perceived as a uniter who’s gotten things done. And we all want the same thing in our federal government.”

Simon will appear on the November ballot with Cardin, Campbell and Libertarian Party nominee Arvin Vohra. He was certified for the ballot last week as an “unaffiliated” candidate after submitting more 17,000 signatures, but ended up qualifying with just several hundred to spare over the 10,000 valid signatures required for independent statewide candidates.

As of the beginning of this week, 10,770 of Simon’s signatures had been validated, with another 500 still being processed, according to Donna Duncan, an assistant deputy administrator at the Maryland Board of Elections. Nearly 5,900 of the signatures submitted by Simon’s campaign were rejected for what Duncan termed “technicalities” in a process that requires petition signatures conform closely to the way that a voter’s name appears on the registration rolls.

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