FORT WASHINGTON, Pa. — Cameras are never far away as bow-tied Raj Peter Bhakta, a former hopeful on Donald Trump’s TV show “The Apprentice,” auditions for an audience deciding whether to give him a job as a congressman.
A production crew is filming a documentary about Bhakta and his long-shot bid to unseat first-term Democratic Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Pennsylvania. At a fundraiser last month for two Republican incumbents, guests sought out Bhakta as he milled about the ballroom so they could pose for pictures with him.
Bhakta once occupied the posh Manhattan boardrooms of “The Apprentice,” vying with other eager young men and women for a job with Trump. He was fired from the program after a home renovation project went awry.
Now, two years later, Bhakta works out of a Best Western hotel in a nondescript area off the Pennsylvania Turnpike — his campaign headquarters.
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“Some people want to do the same thing all their life,” said Bhakta, 30. “I’m an entrepreneur. You have different opportunities and you pursue those opportunities.”
Bhakta brings some baggage to the race: two DUI arrests in the past nine years, no political experience and questions about his business background.
Bhakta has acknowledged the DUIs, saying he was ashamed of his “irresponsible” actions, but he has no apologies for being a political outsider or the hopscotch nature of his resume.
His first business venture, launched in 2000, was a failed attempt to sell used cars online. Bhakta said a second business, with his family and other partners, successfully renovated a lodge in Vail, Colo. His family also owns the Best Western that houses his campaign office.
“The Apprentice” came calling in 2004, and after Bhakta got fired he started the Coalition for the Advancement of the Republic, an advocacy group designed to “espouse common sense conservatism,” according to its Web site.
It hasn’t gotten off the ground because of the demands of the campaign, he said.
A moderate Republican
Bhakta, a first-generation American whose parents are from India and Ireland, describes himself as a moderate Republican. He opposes gay marriage but supports civil unions. On abortion rights, he will only say that Roe v. Wade is “the established law of the land.”
The war in Iraq was misguided, he said, but withdrawing now is not an option.
Bhakta hasn’t been given much of a chance, especially in a Philadelphia-area district won by Democrats Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004, each with 56 percent of the vote.
Schwartz, 57, was elected to Congress in 2004, also with 56 percent of the vote. The former state senator has about $1.3 million campaign cash on hand, according to her most recent campaign finance report, compared to about $79,000 for Bhakta.
Five months before the election, Bhakta has perhaps become the Trump of his own reality show, overseeing more than a dozen interns working on his campaign. He has promised to hire the three best if he is elected.
At an orientation session this week, Bhakta reminded the interns of the hard work of campaigning and his uphill challenge.
And he warned them not to play to the documentary’s cameras, since campaigns often have enough surprises without having to manufacture unnecessary drama — or infighting.
“I’ve been on a show where there’s a lot of that,” he said.