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Facing uphill battle, an RIA runs for Senate

For a candidate who is trailing in the polls by nearly 40 points, Neal Simon is remarkably upbeat.

Simon, the CEO of Bronfman Rothschild, a $6 billion-plus RIA, is running for political office for the first time as an independent in the Maryland Senate campaign. He faces a popular three-term Democratic incumbent who is polling at 56%, compared to Simon’s 8%.

Nonetheless, Simon says he is being “greeted enthusiastically” throughout the state. “People are tired of partisanship division where nothing gets done. We’re offering a different solution.”

Simon highlights his lack of affiliation, arguing that “the only way to change the way Washington works is without a party label. If you have a party label, you’re part of the problem.”

Neal Simon campaigning

Indeed, Simon, who belongs to Unite America, a group advocating “country over party,” sees himself as “part of a national movement. I don’t see myself coming back to the [financial services] industry in a full-time capacity.”

He points to the voting record of his opponent, Senator Ben Cardin, who Simon claims votes with his party nearly 100% of the time.

But that message is falling on deaf ears in Maryland, according to Mileah Kromer, director of the Hughes Field Politics Center at Gaucher College in Maryland.

“Cardin is a well-funded popular incumbent in a heavily Democratic state,” says Kromer. “He’s not divisive in Maryland, and the state has a history of long-serving Democratic senators. That’s made it difficult for Simon to break through. Not a lot of attention is being paid to the race.”

Nonetheless, Simon remains optimistic.

“There are no political parties in the Constitution,” says Neal Simon.

“We have a path to victory,” he asserts. Internal polling shows his popularity climbing, Simon says. He believes a televised debate on Sunday with Cardin and Republican candidate Tony Campbell — who is only polling at 17% — will further boost his chances.

Perhaps Simon’s most promising glimmer of hope is the success of Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican running for re-election who is very popular in Maryland, despite the state’s Democratic majority. Simon hired Hogan’s former campaign manager Steve Crim.

Simon has poured over $500,000 of his own money into the campaign, which has raised over $1 million. Campbell has raised less than $50,000, but Cardin has raised over $4 million, and spent four times as much money as Simon on the campaign.

Simon is convinced his theme of non-partisanship transcends the election and will eventually catch on, noting that “there are no political parties in the Constitution.”

The independent approach to politics “has a clarity of purpose” that, according to Simon, is necessary to enact reforms such as ending gerrymandering, enacting term limits and campaign finance reform, holding open primaries and eliminating arcane Senate rules such as the filibuster.

Where does Simon stand on the decidedly partisan issues of the day?

Simon is "against most of what Trump has done."

At the time of the interview, Simon said he was waiting to see the findings of the FBI investigation into Brett Kavanaugh before saying whether or not he would support Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.

Based on Kavanaugh’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Simon did say the judge was “more combative and partisan than I would want to see from a Supreme Court Justice.”

As for President Donald Trump, Simon says he didn’t vote for him and “is against most of what he has done.”

“My biggest concern,” he says, “is the effect that his behavior will have on future generations. They should know it’s not normal for a president to lie, bully and belittle people.”

However, Simons adds that he is not “instinctively against everything Trump does.” As an example, he says he supports the Trump administration’s decision to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Simon’s biggest problem running as independent in Maryland in 2018 may simply be timing, Kromer says.

“Neal Simon could be an attractive candidate,” she says. “It’s just a tough cycle for him.”

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