- The Washington Times - Friday, January 27, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — A little-known businessman is butting his way in to the already crowded Democratic primary race for the U.S. Senate by spending millions from his own fortune.

Josh Rales, a Montgomery County resident who became wealthy from the real estate investment firm he started 21 years ago, plans to spend “several million” of his own money on the race.

The former Republican, who always has considered himself a social liberal, said he has so far raised $452,313 in contributions. He told The Washington Times he needs $5 million to $7 million to be competitive, and will spend what he needs to reach that goal.

“It gives us a chance to get our message out,” said Mr. Rales, 48, in the State House on Thursday after Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s State of the State speech. But “the message still has to connect.”

Political observers say another candidate could take away votes from front-runner Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a 10-term congressman from Baltimore, in his race against Kweisi Mfume, a congressman from 1986 to 1996 and the former leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“Ben Cardin is the establishment candidate [but] the more candidates that take on Cardin in the primary is good,” Mfume spokesman Dan Walter said.

Mr. Walter said he knew little about Mr. Rales but that “anybody with that kind of money to spend is a serious candidate.”

Mr. Mfume, who is black, is expected to receive strong support from black voters, which could give him up to 40 percent of the vote.

Cardin spokesman Oren Shu said they were “focused on our own campaign.”

“We believe Maryland Democrats will rally behind Ben Cardin because they know that he’s an effective leader with strong principles,” he said.

Other Democratic candidates going into the Sept. 12 primary include Dennis Rasmussen, a former Baltimore County executive; Alan J. Lichtmann, an American University professor; and Lise C. Van Susteren, a forensic psychiatrist.

The candidates are running to replace Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a five-term senator who is retiring.

The winner likely will face Republican front-runner Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele.

Mr. Cardin has raised $2.8 million and has $2.1 million on hand, his campaign has said. The Federal Election Commission will not release official numbers until the end of the month.

Mr. Mfume has not released his latest fundraising numbers. His last filing, on Sept. 30, shows he had raised $319,050 and had $97,439 cash on hand.

Mr. Steele has raised $1.3 million, but has not disclosed how much cash he has on hand.

Mr. Rales describes himself as an outsider to the political process who understands governance well enough to bring a “fresh perspective” to Congress.

“I think people are in the mood for change,” he said. “I’m a problem solver.”

Mr. Rales said his success with his firm, RFI Associates in Bethesda, shows he can “produce results.”

He said his campaign will focus on increasing teacher salaries as part of a plan to improve education, decreasing U.S. dependence on foreign oil and improving health care.

Mr. Rales said he was a registered Republican from 1994 to 2004 because fiscal responsibility was at the top of his list.

“I believed for a time that the Republican Party was more committed to fiscal discipline,” he said. “With power, they lost their way. And they’ve also been hijacked by the religious right on social issues. I’ve always been pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-stem-cell research.”

However, Mr. Rales gave money to President Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign. He also gave that year to the campaign for Sen. John R. Thune, South Dakota Republican, to unseat former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle.

Mr. Lichtmann has said the contributions call into question Mr. Rales’ Democratic credentials.

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