Maryland Senate primary clash pits money against endorsements
Will David Trone’s millions be a match for Angela Alsobrooks’ support from politicians across the state?
Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images/ Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Maryland’s Senate primary isn’t for another year, but Rep. David Trone (D-MD) — one of the frontrunners in the Democratic primary — is already running TV ads in prime time. The millionaire founder of a beverage store chain has said he might spend $50 million of his own money in the race.
His chief competitor, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, does not have a personal fortune to draw upon. But Alsobrooks’ supporters say the early excitement she is generating, along with a large slate of endorsements from elected officials across the state, give her a good shot at winning the seat.
“She can raise more than enough to get her message out,” said Jazz Lewis, a member of Maryland’s House of Delegates who lives in Prince George’s County and briefly mounted a congressional bid last cycle. “When you combine that with the energy that she has on the ground, with her volunteers, with advocacy organizations, I just think it’ll be a tough thing to contend with. I don’t know if money alone can fight that.”
When Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) announced earlier this month that he will retire at the end of his term, a political fight quickly broke out, given the rare opportunity for Democratic politicians to seek election to an open Senate seat in this deep-blue state. Political analysts say the 2024 primary appears to be a two-person contest between Trone and Alsobrooks, with Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando mounting an unlikely challenge from the insurgent left.
At this early stage in the race, there aren’t yet major political fault lines between Trone and Alsobrooks. Even Alsobrooks’ supporters aren’t clear which issues she will emphasize, or what positions she will take on key issues.
“I haven’t yet seen position papers from everybody, or position statements,” said Wendy Frosh, the former chair of the board at Planned Parenthood of Maryland.
“There hasn’t been a lot of discussion about her position on federal and international issues,” added Jeffrey Slavin, the mayor of the town of Somerset in Montgomery County. “I’d say she’s more of a mainstream Democrat,” he added, rather than someone on the party’s left flank.
At this stage, when the race has not yet turned to matters of policy, voters and potential donors are considering the candidates’ records: Trone as a three-term member of Congress and the founder of Total Wine & More, and Alsobrooks as the two-term executive of Maryland’s second-largest county and its former top prosecutor.
Alsobrooks’ backers expect the most likely line of attack against her to center on her background as a prosecutor at a time when many on the left are critical of law enforcement.
“My sense is that Angela Alsobrooks has the benefit — it may actually be a liability, who knows, it depends which lens you’re looking through — [of] having been the county state’s attorney; she, I think, really knows the criminal justice system better than Will Jawando or David Trone,” said Frosh, who argued that critics don’t understand the difficult work of public safety: “It’s easy to be ideological about it when you’re not making policy that actually hits the community that you serve.”
For many, the race is a question of identity; Maryland has not had a woman in its congressional delegation since former Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) left office in early 2017. Alsobrooks has been endorsed by EMILY’s List, a major political organization focused on electing Democratic women.
“I am, in this day and age, increasingly sensitive about the need to have more women representing us in elected office,” said Frosh.
If Alsobrooks wins, she could be the only Black woman in the Senate, although Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) is mulling a bid for Senate after Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) announced this week that he will not seek reelection. In California, Rep. Barbara Lee, a Bay Area Democrat, is running for Senate.
“As a woman, as a Black woman, as a mother, I think she is going to be able to speak to a number of audiences that aren’t appropriately represented in the United States Senate,” said Lewis.
“There’s nothing against David Trone there,” Lewis said. “I am a fan of him. A number of things that he’s done on the criminal justice reform side mirror things that I’ve done in the state legislature.”
In Congress, Trone is known for his bipartisan work on issues related to mental health and drug overdoses. He is presenting himself in the Senate race as a progressive who is interested in working across the aisle to get things done.
“I’m a progressive through and through,” he told Politico earlier this month, “but at the same time, you can be a progressive, and you can work with folks that are on the other side of the aisle to accomplish things.”
Trone is also a vocal supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship, both within Congress and philanthropically, as a major donor to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The pro-Israel lobby’s political action committee endorsed Trone last year.
Alsobrooks traveled to Israel on an AIPAC-affiliated trip in 2019, after which she began to engage more closely with members of Maryland’s Jewish community. But her views on the U.S.-Israel relationship are largely unknown.
“She was deeply moved by her experience, in terms of going to Israel,” said Marnie Abramson, a business owner in Montgomery County who began supporting Alsobrooks after encountering a virtual fundraiser for her during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I think, following that trip, she developed relationships with some of the other women and people from the Jewish community.”
Lewis, the Prince George’s County legislator, said he recommended to Alsobrooks that she go on the trip to Israel.
“That’s moved and stuck with her,” he said. “We in Prince George’s County have a much smaller Jewish population compared to Montgomery County. But she’s been very intentional about building relationships with the synagogues in our county, and making sure that their voice is heard as well, because they moved here. They’re our neighbors.”
One major question hanging over the race at this early stage is whether Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), a progressive lawmaker from Montgomery County, will enter the race. He has not yet made a decision.
“Everyone is talking about that,” said Lewis. “A race with Angela [Alsobrooks] and Jamie [Raskin] and David [Trone] I think would be very beneficial to Angela, frankly, because I think there are certain demographics that she’s going to mobilize that others aren’t going to pierce into.”
Supporters of Alsobrooks look to Raskin for another reason — as an example of how a candidate can overcome Trone’s financial investment in his own races. In 2016, Trone spent $13 million in a primary against Raskin that Raskin ultimately won.
“He’s got as much money as he wants to spend, and that’s gonna be hard for anybody running against him,” said Frosh. But, she added, “The money isn’t what decided the votes. It was the people that decided the votes.”