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Maryland Businessman Promises Millions for His Senate Campaign

A Maryland real estate investor promised to pump more than $4 million into his race for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate Monday -- nearly double what the top candidate has raised to date.

Josh Rales, 48, an ex-Republican of Potomac, announced his candidacy at his alma mater, Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, as he became the sixth Democratic hopeful in a pack that includes Rep. Ben Cardin, D-Baltimore, and former congressman and ex-NAACP leader Kweisi Mfume. Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Steele and Independent Kevin Zeese are also running.

Rales criticized Congress as "a broken system" that has lagged in passing legislation. He vowed health care reform, increased education funding and eliminating tax cuts for the wealthy. He declined to outline specific proposals, saying he will unveil his ideas during his campaign.

"When we elect the usual politicians, don't be surprised when we get politics as usual," he said. "I'm offering something different."

Rales founded and runs RFI Associates, a real estate investment company, and, with his wife, Debra, created the Ruth Rales Comcast Kids Reading Network, which is named after his mother and assists elementary kids with reading problems.

In foreign policy, Rales said he supports withdrawing troops from Iraq by the end of this year. And, in the case of Iran's threats to develop its nuclear capability, he said "every option," including military action, should be explored.

Rales said he's not intimidated by the other candidates' head start. Just seven months remain before the Sept. 12. primary election. His goal is to raise $6 million to $7 million, including $4 million to $5 million of his money. He has already raised about $500,000 in eight weeks, he said, and expects "a lot more" before filing his campaign finance reports by the end of the month.

Top-grossing candidate Cardin has raised $2.8 million and Steele has collected $1.27 million, according to their campaigns.

A registered Republican from 1994-2004, Rales said he hopes voters will judge him for his "totality." He called himself a fiscal conservative and social liberal who has recently grown disillusioned with Republicans.

"There were times when I believed that the Republican Party was more committed to fiscal discipline," he said. "Boy, do I now know that was a mistake."

President Bush has been criticized by conservatives for allowing the nation's deficit to balloon to $412 billion in 2004, after a $236 billion surplus in 2000, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Since 2000, Rales has contributed to both parties. According to the Federal Elections Commission, he donated to Democratic Reps. Albert Wynn, D-Largo, and Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville; and Republican Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn.; Reps. Thomas Davis, R-Va., and Eric Cantor, R-Va.; former Sen. Bob Smith-N.H.; unsuccessful Republican congressional candidate Charles Floyd; and former Reps. Bob Franks of New Jersey, Connie Morella of Bethesda.

Rales pledged $12,000 to AmeriPAC, a conservative political action committee and gave $5,000 to the Republican Jewish Coalition Political Action Committee. He also gave to several Democratic committees, including the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee.

Rales promised he would be "independent" and noted by way of example that he would have voted for newly-appointed U.S. Supreme Court Justi

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