'The Apprentice' Meets Pennsylvania Politics

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Sep 07, 2006 8:23 AM

Remember this guy? That's Raj Bhakta. He was on "The Apprentice," hangin' with The Donald a couple seasons ago. Now he's taking on a new challenge-- running for Congress in Pennsylvania. And you thought Santorum's was the only race to watch in the Keystone State. Not so, friends.

The bow-tied ladies' man who made his mark on "The Apprentice" by asking out Trump's receptionist upon his exit in the ninth episode of the season (a clip I, sadly, couldn't find on YouTube), is making a run at wooing the voters of Pennsylvania away from one-term Democrat incumbent Allyson Schwartz.

Raj took a few minutes out of his campaign schedule to talk to me about the political landscape in his part of the state and his chances there. Pennsylvania's 13th District went for Kerry 56-43 in 2004, but Bhakta thinks there's plenty of room for change.

"The biggest problem is the Republicans are not voting Republican. Because the Repubilcans are outspending the Democrats. Republicans have betrayed their principles and they’re gonna pay through the nose for it," he said.

His recommendation? A dose of good, old-fashioned fiscal conservatism, and a fresh perspective.

“I’m not gonna become a career politician. I'm running as a person who wants to serve his country and move on. I’m getting a lot of support for that message.”

Both his entrepreneurial background (he's a bit of a serial entrepreneur, with forays into technology and real estate) and his upbringing make him the guy to bring that kind of approach to Washington over Schwartz, he said. Bhakta is the son of two immigrants. His Irish mother gave him social conservative values, and his Indian father showed him the power of entrepreneurship coupled with freedom from intrusive government.

The story of the Bhakta family makes him a believer in the American dream.

“Only in America, can a family as diverse as mine, completely foreign background…become successful, and say not even a generation later that I’m a Republican candidate for the U.S. Congress."

Bhakta has already shown he knows it will take some creative marketing to beat an incumbent, and he's taking advantage of the blogosphere to get his message out.He spoke to Danny Glover of Beltway Blogroll, who commended Bhakta on an Internet fundraising effort that used Joe Biden's comments about Indian-American 7-11 employees as a jumping-off point.

Bhakta, who is of Indian ancestry, seized on the quote as an opening to invite donations of $7.11, $70.11 or $700.11. "I hope you'll show the senator what a silly thing he said," Bhakta said in an audio statement explaining the challenge. The challenge, which was promoted by some bloggers, yielded several thousand dollars, Bhakta said in a telephone interview.

"Team Raj" also keeps an active blog of its own, and Raj has been interviewed by none other than The Real Ugly American and Iowa Voice.

But beyond the issues, there's still plenty of talk about Bhakta's reality-show fame. Bhakta even turned to Trump himself for advice when he was thinking of making a run. His thoughts?

"Don't even think about it, kid. Just do it."

I asked Bhakta what question he gets most frequently on the trail.

"They ask if I got a date with the secretary."

Well?

"I took her out for coffee. It was decaffeinated."

To help the Raj campaign out, visit his contribution page, read his blog, or get out and knock on doors. Lord knows Pennsylvania could use more conservatives in office, and Bhakta looks like he's got an energy and strategy that could get him there.