- - Friday, October 14, 2011

The last time Maryland had a Republican senator, Ronald Reagan was president and now-U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin was serving his first term in Congress. But that history hasn’t deterred ex-Secret Service agent Dan Bongino from entering next year’s Senate race.

“There’s this idea out there that Maryland is this deep blue state; that no Republicans exist here,” Mr. Bongino said during an interview in his hometown of Severna Park. “It’s just not the case; there are good Republicans here who frankly fought the fights and are still fighting the fights.”

This is Mr. Bongino’s first venture into the political arena as a candidate, even though he’s been protecting politicians for the past 12 years as a Secret Service agent. He worked five years with the New York City Police Department, two as a police officer, and has earned psychology degrees from Queens College and City University of New York. He also holds a master’s in business administration from Penn State University.

An issue Mr. Bongino speaks most passionately about is education, especially the educational disparity in Maryland.

“I’m going after Cardin on this,” Mr. Bongino said. “I don’t understand how he can look lower-income families in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City in the face and tell them ‘I’m in it for you.’ Really? How? How are you in it? You’ve condemned a lot of these students and schools that have not done a good job.”

Maryland schools were No. 1 in Education Week’s 2011 states’ report card for the third year in a row. But, Mr. Bongino pointed out that same report ranked Maryland 38th for equity measurement, which compares the reading and math test scores between students eligible for the school lunch program and those who are ineligible.

The economy and what he calls institutional arrogance by Washington’s political leaders are reasons he cites for entering the race.

“People want jobs, they don’t care for party labels right now,” Mr. Bongino said. “If you can’t put Cheerios on your table in the morning for your kid, I’ll be honest with ya’, not much else matters. People want jobs, good jobs, quality jobs, jobs we created in the past.”

He does not support President Obama’s plan to create jobs, calling it “more big government intervention.” He plans to release his own economic proposal soon, which will include a lower income tax rate and dropping the 35 percent corporate tax rate to a flat 12.5 to 15 percent.

Mr. Cardin’s campaign spokeswoman Shelly Hettleman declined to comment on Mr. Bongino’s claims on the Democratic senator’s record. After the April primary, she said, Mr. Cardin “will be happy to discuss the issues with whoever the Republican nominee is going to be.”

Even though it’s early in the race, Mr. Cardin is still favored to win, according to Paul Herrnson, director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland. In 2006, Mr. Cardin received 54.2 percent of the vote against Republican Michael S. Steele, former lieutenant governor.

Nationally, next year’s election favors Republicans, with Mr. Obama’s approval rating at 40 percent and Congress‘ at 13 percent, according to a recent Gallup poll. But Maryland’s Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies released a poll on Oct. 4 showing 63 percent of the state’s voters are opting for Mr. Cardin.

“The problem that any challenger has is becoming visible enough to become competitive,” Mr. Herrnson said.

Gaining that visibility could become more difficult for Mr. Bongino if previous Senate candidate Eric Wargotz enters the race. Mr. Wargotz, who ran unsuccessfully against Sen. Barbara Mikulski last year, has been soliciting donations for a potential run. Mr. Wargotz plans to make his intentions clear by November, a couple months before the January filing deadline.

Another possible contender is Delegate Pat McDonough, Baltimore County Republican, who said he plans to run for office but hasn’t decided between the Senate and Congress, specifically for the seat now held by Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat. That decision will be made after the General Assembly’s special session on redistricting, which begins Monday, he said.

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