Independent U.S. Senate candidate Rob Sobhani agreed to pull down an advertisement he began airing on black radio stations this week that attacked incumbent Sen. Ben Cardin after state Democrats complained Friday the spot was riddled with inaccuracies.
The ad plays a passage from a 2006 debate in which Cardin's one-time opponent, Kweisi Mfume, criticizes him for his time in office. "You get in Washington, you get this Potomac Fever -- you just think that God put you there," the ad quotes Mfume saying at the debate.
Mfume, a former congressman and NAACP leader who has endorsed Cardin's bid for reelection this year, immediately renounced the ad Friday, arguing it is intended to confuse voters.
"Senator Ben Cardin has held office for 46 years," the ad's narrator says. "So long, he seems to think God put him there. Even worse, he ignores our community all year then comes to us election time and says, 'My friends, I need your votes.'"
The spot goes on to criticize Cardin for receiving "free health care for life" while "we're struggling without health care." In fact, members of Congress are provided the same health benefits as all federal employees. The various plans offered are similar to those provided by large private companies and they require enrollees to contribute toward the cost of premiums.
Noting that the unemployment rate among African Americans is at 14 percent, the ad's narrator then says Cardin will get "paid nearly $200,000 every year, even after he retires." That is also an exaggeration. Lawmakers receive $174,000 a year and a back-of-the-envelope calculation shows Cardin would receive roughly $68,000 in annual federal retirement benefits if he left Congress next year.
Asked about the inaccuracies, Sobhani campaign spokesman Sam Patten could not provide independent research to back up the ad's claims. He said the campaign stands by the ad "in principle" but said the campaign would pull it off the air "because it's not technically correct."
"We're pulling it because, yes, there were some technical aspects that may not have been 100 percent correct," Patten said, adding that the campaign would replace it with a similar ad soon. "However, the thrust of the argument is valid."
Cardin's campaign was not immediately available for comment.
"It is insulting that he would try to confuse voters with a subtle suggestion that he and I are of like minds," Mfume said in an interview, adding that he is contemplating airing an ad of his own next week to counter the Sobhani spot. "To say the ad is misleading would be an understatement at best."
Sobhani entered the race in September after presenting some 77,000 signatures to the state Board of Elections to get on the ballot. He has poured millions of dollars of his own money into a television ad campaign that has run in the Washington and Baltimore media markets. A recent poll by the Washington Post showed Sobhani had 14 percent of the vote, compared with 53 percent for Cardin and 22 percent for Republican candidate Daniel Bongino.
Attacking Cardin over the nation's uninsured is a surprising move given that the Maryland lawmaker was among the most ardent supporters in Washington of President Barack Obama's health care law. To be sure, the law is hugely controversial, but even its critics acknowledge it would expand access to millions of uninsured people. The controversy has centered over how that expansion will be paid for.
The state Democratic Party sent a letter to the Sobhani campaign on Friday complaining about the ad.
"Political campaigns should be honest debates where voters can make decisions based on the facts," party chairwoman Yvette Lewis said in the letter. "You assert that you're charting a new political path, yet this ad demonstrates negative campaigning at its worst."