Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Apprentice TV Show star to run for Congress?

'Apprentice' contestant may bid for CongressWhile some see Raj Bhakta as longshot in 13th District, GOP looks on favorably. By Pervaiz Shallwani Of The Morning Call Raj Bhakta, the aspiring apprentice best remembered for his dapper dress and on-camera womanizing, couldn't sway tycoon developer Donald Trump to give him a job. Now, the Fort Wash that covers northeast Philadelphia and a large portion of Montgomery County''Skeptics may think: What does this guy know about the grave issues that face this country?'' Bhakta said during an interview at his office tucked among third-floor guest rooms at his family's Best Western Hotel in Fort Washington.''My challenge is to talk about those and tell them why I am well positioned to discuss those issues.''
Bhakta, considered a political longshot, is the cane-carrying, bow-tie-wearing TV contestant who was noticed more for his attempts at wooing women than for his business acumen.During the second season of the show, Bhakta was turned away by tennis star Anna Kournikova for a coffee date and flirted with Trump's secretary as he strutted out of the boardroom after being booted.Even back then, Bhakta, who turns 30 in less than two weeks, was talking about his political leanings as a ''moderate Republican'' and his aspirations for public office in 2006.''Since I have been 8 years old I have been deeply interested in world issues,'' said Bhakta, who talks like an idealist and calls himself a Teddy Roosevelt Republican.Bhakta is not the first TV personality to turn politician. Others include Iowa Republican Fred Grandy, who played Gopher on ''The Love Boat'' and won a congressional seat in 1987, and Pennsylvania Democrat Nancy Kulp, who played Miss Jane Hathaway on ''The Beverly Hillbillies'' in the 1960s and lost a similar bid in 1984.Asked about Bhakta's political prospects, University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato described them as ''not very far.''''Look, most voters see through this,'' he said. ''They are not stupid.''They may know the fellow's name, but he doesn't have political name I.D. Let's give him that much.''If Bhakta chooses to run — and survives the Republican primary in the spring — he'll face Schwartz, a freshman, but a seasoned politician who raised $4.5 million to defeat Republican Melissa Brown by 15 percent in a brutal 2004 campaign that was among the most expensive in the country.Bhakta's candidacy has been well received by local and national Republicans.''I worry about a candidate who's shy and he's not shy,'' said Montgomery County Republican Party Chairman Ken Davis, who has met with him a number of times. ''Every candidate needs a hook, and if 'The Apprentice' works for him, then God bless him.''Davis, along with state and national Republican leaders pegged Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor Jr. as their top candidate for the seat, but the prosecutor opted to stay put.For now, Bhakta and businessman Al Taubenberger, who lost to Brown in the 2004 primary, are the only two candidates who have publicly expressed interest in challenging Schwartz.Bhakta met with Republican campaign officials during a quick trip to Washington, D.C., in late September.''We met with him and found him to be pretty serious and pretty earnest about this endeavor,'' National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ed Patru said. ''He has put out some pretty realistic goals for the future.''Schwartz officials had no comment on a Bhakta campaign.Born in North Philadelphia and raised in Blue Bell, Bhakta is a first-generation American, whose father moved to this country from India, and his Irish mother from England.Bhakta graduated from Boston College with degrees in economics and history and worked briefly for a New York investment banking firm, and dabbled in the dot-com boom before settling on a career in real estate development. He owns Vanquish Enterprises, a high-end real estate company that is working on redeveloping a multimillion dollar lodge in Vail, Colo.At his rent-free office, the phone rings constantly and is answered with a warm ''Raj Bhakta's office'' by assistant Maria Boren, who was a contestant on the show with Bhakta.Bhakta continues to wear his trademark bow tie, a look he says was sparked by his love for former British leader Winston Churchill. He has been sporting the look since his days at The Hill School, a boarding school in Pottstown.Bhakta says he spends about six hours a day on campaign work, organizing and interviewing people for a potential campaign.He spent Monday writing a campaign mailer he'll send to party committee leaders in the district, and contacting what he calls a ''personal network of family and friends.''For now, Bhakta says he is ''prepping them and softening the ground,'' hoping they will be in his corner politically and financially should the campaign move forward.Bhakta plans to decide on whether to run by mid-January. He says the decision is dependent on public reaction to his candidacy and his success at raising funds for a campaign he expects will cost ''at least as much as last time.''


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