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You're Hired? Ex-'Apprentice' Wants to Go to Washington

January 26, 2006 By:
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He's a reality-show contestant who developed a reputation for hitting on women on national television. She's a veteran legislator who trounced her opponent two years ago in a district that leans slightly in favor of her own party. If you were a betting soul, who would you give the odds to come November?

The incumbent, of course, say analysts.

Allyson Schwartz

But in the 13th Congressional District cutting through Montgomery County and a chunk of Northeast Philadelphia, the question is not academic anymore, thanks to the curious candidacy of Raj Bhakta, the local real estate developer who was booted by Donald Trump in the ninth week of the second season on NBC's "The Apprentice."

Viewers might remember Bhakta, a self-start businessman, bird-dogging for the likes of Anna Kournikova and Trump's secretary, but Chris Brennan, the Republican's campaign manager, insists this run for Congress against Democratic incumbent Allyson Schwartz is no joke.

"If Raj was someone who only wanted to spend his 15 minutes of fame, there are other ways to do it than running for Congress," says Brennan, who coordinated Southeastern Pennsylvania efforts for the Bush/Cheney campaign in 2004. "He's a serious candidate. He's a businessman who happened to be on a TV show."

Backing up Brennan's case is an impressive fundraising figure: Bhakta amassed $110,000 in campaign contributions in the month of December alone. That kind of quickly-gained largess has made even the skeptics take notice.

"You can't snicker at that," says Philadelphia-based political analyst Jeff Jubelirer. "He's showing he's serious."

Still, Bhakta is up against an opponent perhaps as tough as Trump.

"She's a battle-tested candidate who can raise the money and get out the vote," says Jubelirer, noting that Schwartz handed Republican Dr. Melissa Brown a stunning defeat after a campaign that vied for spending records. "She did very well against a moderate Republican female the last time around."

The analyst stresses that even with all of the fame - some might say notoriety - surrounding Bhakta, the question for voters on Election Day will still be: Why should they vote out the incumbent?

Bhakta says that he has the answer: Only he can provide a new face, that of a noncareer politician who will fight against a "culture of corruption" in Washington. He's even pledged to leave office after three terms.

"I have no interest in being a career politician," he says. "America's at an important crossroads, internationally and domestically. We need people who are not afraid to say what they believe."

The Schwartz campaign refuses to directly comment on Bhakta's candidacy, preferring to wait until after the May 16 primary. Spokeswoman Rachel Magnusson stresses that Schwartz has had a stellar first term.

"Her goal is really to go to work every day for her constituents," she says. "There are very serious issues in Congress that she works every day to address, whether it's health care or the economy. Her constituents will be looking for someone with the skills and experience to address these issues."

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