For Dan Bongino, the adage "been there, done that" applies. He's experienced White House parties, Air Force One and limousine rides with top officials and dignitaries.
Bongino won the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat in the primary election on Tuesday and will be running in November against Sen. Ben Cardin, a political power house with 45 years in Maryland politics and six years as a senator.
As a former Secret Service agent with 11 years of experience protecting three different presidents, Bongino, 37, isn't interested in the perks that would come with being a U.S. senator. He's already been on the inside of the power circle—sort of like a fly on the wall—watching, observing and listening to how Washington, DC, operates.
The fact that he won the primary election wasn't a surprise for the Severna Park resident.
"It was fine for us to run under the radar and we really snuck up on him [Cardin]," Bongino said. "Without reservation, no one campaigns harder than we do."
On Thursday afternoon at his home in Severna Park, Bongino wore a tie, crisp white shirt and dress pants as he held his 2-month-old daughter with his laptop open on the kitchen table. Bongino has been holding court with the local media on his backyard patio since winning the primary. Before then, he said, there's not been much media coverage directed towards him.
Quitting the day job
One month to the day before his 11th anniversary with the U.S. Secret Service—also the day his wife, Paula, announced she was pregnant with their second child—he resigned from his job while announcing he was going to run for the U.S. Senate. It was May 21, 2011, and he was serving for President Obama. Leaving the secret service detail wasn't a political decision, but a personal one.
"I left the Baltimore field office, not the president," he said. "I miss it everyday, it was a wonderful job."
Bongino missed getting his pension by 30 days.
"I knew I was doing the right thing, good old-fashioned politics and I had good people behind me," he said of giving up the prestigious and stable career to run for the U.S. Senate. "Because I really believe in what I'm doing, the story is the story."
With a volunteer base that grew to 1,100 in about a year and three full-time staffers, he is now gearing up for round two of campaigning. The first stop will be opening day at Camden Yards on Friday where he will stand outside and wave and talk to people. He also does the same outside of the Ravens home games and at Metro stations, as do his volunteers, many of whom he said, became volunteers after meeting him at these campaign stops.
Bongino said he started out growing up in the middle class, but when his parents divorced, "it went down hill from there" he said. He estimates he lived at about 15 different addresses in New York and said he ate a lot of bologna and cheese for dinner.
"We would wait for a security deposit to run out and move to the next spot," he said. "It left a lot of scars, but they are worth it—it teaches you the value of a dollar."
He left home when he was 16, taking along one of his younger brothers, who is now with the Secret Service and living in Millersville. His other brother is a licensed electrician in New York.
Bongino became a police officer in New York City in 1997 and used his accrued vacation time to get his bachelor's and master's degrees in psychology from the City University of New York. He joined the secret service in 1999 and completed a MBA in finance at Penn State. He worked out of the New York field office until 2002 when he transferred to the Baltimore office. As a special agent, he worked on the rental car fraud scheme, reported in the Baltimore Sun in March 2011.
When speaking about his opponent Cardin, Bongino doesn't mince words.
"His first and only job is that of a politician. I'm a self-made man. He doesn't understand going to bed hungry, living paycheck to paycheck," he said. "He's a multi-millionaire."
Comparing the similarity in wealth between Cardin and Mitt Romney (whom he supports), Bongino sees the potential presidential candidate as wanting everyone to be successful. "He's not a hypocrite," Bongino said of Romney.
"Cardin wants to distribute it to his crony buddies. Their war on poverty is a myth. Their war is on successful people," he said.
A small business owner, Bongino said the economy is his strong point.
"I know how to do budgets," he said.
Speaking on small businesses, he posed this question: "When is the government going to get out of the way and let small businesses do for themselves?"
He wants to reform the tax code and, speaking on job creation, pointed to the corporate tax rate of 35 percent in Maryland.
"Why would they want to come here?" he asked.
Maryland is among the 10 lowest-ranking states in the 2012 State Business Tax Climate Index.
The couple has three home-based businesses, an online martial arts apparel company, a website design company and Bongino does security and risk-management consulting on the side.
As Severna Park residents for 10 years, Bongino and his wife have two daughters—Isabel, 8, and Amelia, 2 months old. They are active members of St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church.
Atlanta Bread Company is his favorite haunt in town and he's excited that a Chick-Fil-A is coming to Severna Park.
"When I get elected and you call me senator, I won't answer. Call me Dan," he said and encouraged constituents to approach him. "Call the office, call my home, knock on my door."
CORRECTION: Dan Bongino transferred from the New York Secret Service field office to the Baltimore office in 2002. Patch regrets the error.