A Potomac businessman fed up with partisan politics and a divided country entered the U.S. Senate race this week, backed by a national independent grassroots organization determined to break up the gridlock in Washington by robbing both political parties of their majority.
Bronfman Rothschild CEO and Principal Neal Simon announced his candidacy, after a short exploratory period, in a boutique hotel Tuesday in downtown Rockville, surrounded by about 50 of his friends, family and supporters.
“I’m here today because I believe we should have elected officials who put the best interests of their country ahead of the best interests of their political party,” Simon said. “We are forced to watch as our parties selfishly chip away at our sense of community to drag us deeper into debt without addressing our society’s key economic and social problems.
“Our leaders have stopped working together, stopped listening to each other and they’ve stopped listening to the concerns of working people,” Simon said. “We have a country where Congress works on behalf of special interests while failing to invest in the future of our children.
“This has to change, but it won’t change, it will never change, if we keep electing the same people from the same two parties year after year, over and over again,” Simon said to applause.
Simon, who has no former political experience, is expected to take on two-term Democratic incumbent Sen. Ben Cardin, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Cardin filed for re-election Monday. Currently four Democrats have filed to run against Cardin in the June primary election, including former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning who was convicted in 2010 of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks.
The Centrist Project, a national grassroots movement, is backing Simon’s candidacy both financially and philosophically. Though Simon says he will use some of his personal finances to fund his campaign.
“We will raise enough money to be competitive in the race,” said Centrist Project political strategist Joel Searby.
Searby said the Centrist Project has recently formed a political action committee and is in the process of identifying independent candidates throughout the country who are either running for U.S. Senate or in gubernatorial races.
Cardin ended the year with about $2 million in his campaign coffers, according to his most recently filed campaign finance report.
Cardin’s office would not comment on Simon entering the race, but a spokesperson provided an excerpt from a press release issued upon Cardin’s re-election filing.
“I always look forward to the opportunity to present myself and my record to the voters. I plan to run an aggressive campaign focused on the issues that are important to Marylanders. I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish in the Senate, working on issues like the Chesapeake Bay and the environment, economic growth and health care, transportation, as well as the safety and security of our nation. I have real accomplishments in each of these areas, working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get results for Maryland and the American people, but there is so much more to be done across our state.”
Some of Simon’s top platform positions include attracting good paying jobs to the state, reducing the cost of health care and helping people get ahead by offering everyone an equal chance to receive a good education.
“We need to reduce the crippling health care costs,” Simon said. “We pay $1,100 more per person than our neighbors in Virginia. Nationally, we pay spend double what the average industrialized country spends, and that cost is born by families and businesses. We need to do something about it!”
He also believes the country’s broken immigration system should be solved by providing a pathway to citizenship for immigrants while enhancing security at our country’s borders.
“A nation this divided, this polarized, cannot stand,” Simon said. “I believe that despite our differences, we can work together. It starts with listening to all points of views, communicating respectfully and using facts to make decisions.”
Simon says he’s been all over the state talking to people and Marylanders want change.
“Our country is starved for unity,” Simon said.
While national political polling firms like Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball and the Cook Political Report grade Cardin’s seat as “reliably Democrat” and “safe,” Simon believes that the same people who elected Republican Larry Hogan to the governorship in 2014 may also be willing to cross over for him.
“People largely see Hogan as a uniter,” Simon said. “People view him as bringing our state together.”
Simon also believes that voters are not that excited about Cardin.
According to a January Gallup poll, only 20 percent of Americans currently approve of the job Congress is doing, while 75 percent disapprove. However, Cardin enjoys a 50 percent approval rating in Maryland, according to MorningConsult.com, a national political ranking website.
Ballotpedia, a non-partisan political website that analyzes data from federal, state and local elections, rates Cardin as having one of the most reliable Democratic votes in his party, which is considered an advantage in a state where Democrats enjoy a 2-to-1 voter registration over Republicans. There are 2,134,839 registered Democrats, 1,007,391 registered Republicans and 699,295 unaffiliated voters (independents) in Maryland.
Simon was raised by a Republican father and a Democratic mother. He's voted for both parties in presidential and local elections. He has a bachelor's degree in applied mathematics from Brown University and Master of Business Administration from the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business.
His wife Jennifer, a graduate of Yale University, Harvard Business School and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, says her husband is "wicked, wicked smart" and "eternally optimistic." She calls him a bridge builder, open-minded and says that integrity is his finest attribute. Simon and Jennifer have been married for 22 years. They live in Potomac and have three children.
Besides, being a businessman, Simon spends a great deal of time in public service. In 2016, he and Jennifer Simon were awarded "Humanitarians of the Year" by Interfaith Works. Simon is currently the chair for the Greater Washington Community Foundation, the largest funder of local non-profit groups in Washington, D.C., according to his biography. He has also served as board chair for the Community Foundation of Montgomery County and Interfaith Works.
Simon says he wants to change the way Washington works by leading from the center.
“Congress is not listening to us,” Simon said. “Congress is listening to party bosses and special interests. Without the shackles of a party label and with the credibility of being a moderate independent, I’ll be able to lead from the center. I’ll be a strong independent voice that focuses on putting people, progress and our country ahead of politics and parties.”
Simon says 42 percent of Americans self-identify as independent and are on the way becoming a majority party.
“If you think more people should be more loyal to their parties than to their country or their Constitution, then I’m not the senator for you,” Simon said in closing remarks. “But if you think we should come together instead of being torn apart, join us. If you think common sense is better than partisan extremism, join us. If you think progress and people should trump politics and acrimony, join us. And if you elect me to the U.S. Senate, know that I will never forget to whom I’m accountable, you the people of Maryland – not to a voting bloc, not to a special interest and definitely not to a party boss.
“The future starts today.”