Rockville Executive Neal Simon ‘Very Seriously’ Exploring Independent Bid For U.S. Senate

Launches ‘listening tour’ of Maryland; plans to make final decision on run by end of February


Neal Simon


Neal Simon, the chief executive officer of a Rockville-based wealth management firm, said Wednesday that he is “very seriously considering” running as an independent next year for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Ben Cardin, and is beginning a “listening tour” of the state.

In his first public comments since news of his possible interest in a Senate bid surfaced this month, Simon said: “I think that the people of the country and the state want something other than the two political parties. … They feel like both parties have become much more about trying to win the news cycle, win arguments, win elections, and win money—and not move us forward. And that feeling today is much more prevalent than it ever has been.”

He added: “I would intend to put the interests of the people of Maryland and the people of this country over the interests of any party. Period.”

Simon—who, according to the Maryland Board of Elections, switched his registration from Democrat to unaffiliated in May 2013—this week created an exploratory committee, with the aim of making a final decision about running by the end of February.

But while occasionally prefacing his comments with “assuming I go forward” or “remember, I’m still in the exploratory stage,” Simon, during a 30-minute phone interview, spoke like someone getting ready to run.

“I intend to have as many as 500 meetings, some smaller, some bigger, in the first few months of next year,” Simon said, adding: “What I’ve heard so far is that people want change. And I think I’ll hear more of that as I go through the listening tour—and, based on that, would become an official candidate.”

He has begun to assemble a campaign team, and while declining to share any names, said, “People who have been brought onto the team are some of the top people in politics—some of them come from the left, some of them come from the right.”

He has been consulting closely with the Centrist Project, a Denver-based organization working to recruit and help fund independent candidates for Senate in several states next fall.

“I’m part of a national movement that is gaining a ton of momentum,” Simon said. “And we share a common platform.”

Since 2015, the 49-year old Simon, a Potomac resident, has been CEO of Bronfman Rothschild, an investment firm started in 2013 by scions of two international family financial empires.

Simon, a career entrepreneur who has run five companies, took over after selling Highline, a wealth management firm that he founded in 2002, to Bronfman Rothschild—which today manages $5.4 billion in assets from 10 offices nationwide.

The 74-year old Cardin has yet to declare his intentions for 2018, but has been actively raising campaign funds and maintaining a high profile in the state.

So far, only former CIA officer Sam Faddis, a Bethesda native who lost a bid for a GOP congressional nomination in 2016, has announced plans to take on Cardin.

“My potential campaign is not about Ben Cardin,” Simon said when asked about differences with the incumbent. “It’s about change that people in this country and people in this state want. I’ll bring a different approach to Capitol Hill.”

As for his own political history—Maryland registration records show he voted as a Democrat in state and local primaries in 2006 and 2010, as well as the 2008 presidential primary—Simon said: “I have been a registered independent almost my entire adult life. I registered briefly as a Democrat to vote in the primaries where I live [in Montgomery County] because in many elections, I felt that was the only relevant election. Sadly, Maryland has closed primaries, so an independent cannot vote in the primaries.”

He said he switched his registration to unaffiliated “because I didn’t consider myself a Democrat. I never really did.” He voted in the 2016 November general election, according to records, but declined to say for whom he had cast his presidential ballot.

“I haven’t thought about whether I want to disclose all my past votes. So I’ll take a pass on that one,” he said with a chuckle.

If Simon gets in the race, it would be the second consecutive election in which Cardin has faced an independent challenger. In 2012, businessman Rob Sobhani, then a Montgomery County resident, mounted a well-funded independent candidacy, spending $8 million—nearly all of it out of his own pocket.

Sobhani received 16 percent of the vote—a record for a statewide independent candidate in Maryland, but far behind Cardin, who got 56 percent, and Republican nominee Dan Bongino with 26 percent.

Asked about Sobhani’s effort, Simon responded: “The [independent] campaign that was run six years ago started very late, and did not include a lot of outside financial support. We intend to run a campaign that is very different.”

He declined to discuss the overall size of his potential campaign budget and how much of his personal assets he would be willing to put into it, but said: “I feel blessed to be able to be able to fund a portion of this, but I will not run just with my own money. Outside money is important, not just to fund the activities of the campaign, but as a signal of support and momentum. … Our funding stream will be diversified.”

Sobhani did not formally announce his candidacy until September, less than two months prior to Election Day, after meeting the August deadline for filing the signatures needed to get on the ballot as an independent.

In both Maryland and most other states, independent candidates have met with very limited success during the century and a half that the Democratic and Republican parties have dominated U.S. politics.

At present, there are two independents in the U.S. Senate—one of whom, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, is a self-styled socialist and was a leading contender for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. The other, Angus King of Maine—a former governor from one of the few states where independents have a track record of winning elections—is a centrist in the mold in which Simon views himself.

King, after winning election as an independent in 2012, opted to caucus with the Democrats. Much of the work of the Senate is done in committees, and the Democratic and Republican caucuses currently control committee assignments.

When asked if he would likewise caucus with one of the two parties if elected, Simon replied: “Not necessarily. Our hope is to be able to change the dynamic in the Senate by having a few people who are independent and can move the discussion to the middle.”

He said he and other like-minded centrists believe such a development “is one or two elections” away, contending: “Most of the country feels like us. Most of the country does not believe that governing is supposed to be about winning and losing, and beating the other side all the time.”

Pointing to the Republican-sponsored tax reform measure that cleared Congress this week, Simon said: “I’m against the tax proposal that’s out there the way it is today. But I blame both parties for it. Republicans drafted it, and the Democrats sat there hoping the Republicans were going to fail, so they stood on the sidelines and criticized. And that’s the way people on the Hill govern today.”

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