Long Shot Josh Rales Trying to Get Noticed

Josh Rales, back right, with Adrian Harpool, speaks to Tonya Charleston and her daughters Autumn and Ashele at the Prince George's black heritage festival.
Josh Rales, back right, with Adrian Harpool, speaks to Tonya Charleston and her daughters Autumn and Ashele at the Prince George's black heritage festival. (By Mark Gong -- The Washington Post)
By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 11, 2006

Josh Rales strolled down a pier in Accokeek, leaned on a rail and pointed to Mount Vernon across the Potomac River as a gentle breeze brushed the water. A man never short of words, Rales offered a lesson.

"There's a lot we can learn from this guy," Rales said of the man who called Mount Vernon home. "If our leaders had studied George Washington and understood the values that were born with our nation, we wouldn't have made the same mistakes."

Marylanders who watch television may know the mistakes to which Rales was referring: the war in Iraq, dependence on foreign oil and educational shortfalls. Rales has launched a statewide barrage of television spots that he plans to continue through September's primary in his quest for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate. A millionaire real estate investor and philanthropist from Potomac, Rales has said he will spend as much as $5 million of his money.

Rales, 48, a political neophyte, promises to bring fresh ideas to Congress. He wants to see an end to the war in Iraq and to the "enormous complacency" among elected officials. He compares himself to Ned Lamont, who defeated three-term Democratic Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman this week in a Connecticut primary. But unlike Lamont, Rales has yet to connect with voters.

Rales received the support of 1 percent of registered Maryland voters in a Washington Post poll in June. His standing probably has improved since he launched an advertising campaign last month, but with barely four weeks to go before the primary, it's a tall order to overcome longtime Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin and former congressman Kweisi Mfume, who are leading the Democratic field.

Rales and a veteran staff drawn from past Democratic presidential campaigns are trying to build momentum, starting today with a 10-day statewide bus tour. "I'm in this to win," Rales said in a recent interview.

At the Prince George's County African American Heritage Festival on Saturday, Rales moved briskly through the crowd, homing in on a woman and her two daughters eating cheeseburgers and fried fish at a shaded picnic bench.

"Have you seen my ads?" he asked, as he shook the woman's hand.

"I have. I try not to get too political, but they're pretty good," replied Tonya Charleston, 46, of Accokeek. "It shouldn't matter, the Zip code. . . . The whole state is hurting," she added, referring to Rales' latest spot about discrepancies in school quality on the basis of school locations.

"I can't guarantee you that I can change everything," Rales told her, in a line he would repeat again and again that day. "But what I can guarantee you is that I'll fight the good fight."

As Rales walked away from Charleston, he told aides, "It never ceases to amaze me how sophisticated people are."

Rales campaigns with a sunny disposition; the toothy smile rarely disappears from his long face. His conversations are peppered with strings of statistical information, historical references and quotations from the likes of Harry S. Truman, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Robert F. Kennedy.

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