I was prepared to be unimpressed with U.S. Rep. David Trone at a Democratic Party Labor Day picnic. Actually I was surprised he showed up at all to campaign for the U.S. Senate with a hundred plus Democrats in a Columbia park on a sweltering holiday afternoon.
Trone made his millions as the entrepreneurial founder of the Total Wine & More chain. He has already spent $45 million of mostly his own money to run in four elections for Congress, winning three terms for his Western Maryland seat. And he has “lent” almost $10 million more of his own wealth to win the Senate seat being given up by Sen. Ben Cardin and seems prepared to spend lots more.
Yet here was Trone spending more than two hours working the tables, having serious conversations with Democratic activists. He patiently waited to the end of an hour of speechifying to give an 8-minute talk about why they should nominate a 68-year-old white millionaire over a couple of candidates of color with less money, but as much political experience.
Two other candidates were working the same crowd, Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando and newcomer Juan Dominguez. Missing in person but not in the minds of a substantial number of elected officials from Howard County who had already endorsed her was Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks.
The winner of the May 14 Democratic primary will likely be the next U.S. Senator. Maryland hasn’t elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate in forty years, and that was Charles Mathias, an extinct breed of almost-liberal Republicans.
Wealthy means . . . successful?
Trone has already run TV ads and sent mailers to Democratic voters. On Labor Day, he tackled the problem of his wealth head on.
“I’ve been lucky to get where I am. I didn’t start wealthy. I’m criticized for being wealthy — wealthy means you’ve been successful. It’s probably a good thing. Wealthy probably means you had to get something done.
“I started when I was 11 years old on a farm. We had an outhouse. It was cold in the winter. We didn’t have a lot. I went back, worked for my dad after I finished undergraduate. And at 28, unfortunately, we went bankrupt. My father was bankrupt. He was an abusive alcoholic. It was not pleasant. I lived through that. It destroyed my family. We lost our home. We lost our jobs.”
And what did he do with the business he founded?
“We fought to change an industry. We changed the alcohol industry in the United States. We have 12,000 team members of my company now operating in 28 states. We did $6 billion in sales last year. I understand business inside out.
“Lots of change needs to happen, lots of change. But we need someone who can get stuff done. That’s why we’re running — on getting stuff over the finish line.
“I took this job in Congress three times now because I’m fed up. I’m fed up that we’ve lost a million people to overdoses. We’re now losing over 110,000 each of the last two years. My nephew’s dead. My family suffered with addiction. My family suffered with mental health. I understand those areas because I’ve lived that, and I’m fed up that we can’t do better.”
For Trone, doing better includes raising the corporate tax rate that was cut under Trump, losing $200 billion a year in revenue. It means tackling the problem of mass incarceration and the challenge of returning convicts who can’t get jobs — something he’s overcome with his own hiring. Despite his obvious pro-business background, he’s got a 100% pro-labor record.
By any measure, Trone is the closest voters can get to a Democratic moderate in the race. Jawando is unabashedly progressive.
The Montgomery County Council views itself as an alternative legislature, representing a bigger population than Delaware and five other states. Jawando has most recently won passage of a rent stabilization bill, passed prevailing wage legislation and criminal justice reform regulating county police. He’s sponsoring legislation that will eliminate the lower minimum wage for tipped service workers.
Jawando worked on Capitol Hill for Rep. Nancy Pelosi, as an aide to then-Sen. Barack Obama and in the Obama administration. He accurately says he got more votes last year running for his at-large seat than either Alsobrooks or Trone did in their races, and he claims more federal experience than either one.
“This is time to send a young, bold progressive to the Senate. I’ll be 41 in January. We make up 25% of the population. You know how many senators are millennials? One. John Ossoff [Georgia Democrat]. We need younger people in the Senate. We need people who can deal with tech and the changing nature of our economy … But most importantly, we need a fighter who’s done stuff at the local level.”
Democratic voters might be looking for a fighter — former Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the longest serving woman senator, had some version of the word “fight” in every press release. But they may also be looking for someone who looks like them.
Also brooks personifies two key Democratic constituencies — older Black women and educated, professional suburban women. She looks nothing like Maryland’s all-male congressional delegation. And among the three best known candidates, she clearly has the backing of the party establishment. This includes four congressional colleagues of Trone — U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Reps. Steny Hoyer, Kweisi Mfume and Glenn Ivey. whom she succeeded as PG’s top prosecutor. Also among her hundred endorsers are State Comptroller Brooke Lierman, State Treasurer Dereck Davis, House Speaker Adrienne Jones and 34 delegates, including four Howard County women; 14 state senators, including Howard’s Katie Fry Hester. Former Howard Executive Ken Ulman, current Howard County Council member Opel Jones and Register of Wills Byron Macfarlane are on the Alsobrooks team too.
At some point Gov. Wes Moore will come on board to support a woman whose support in her county helped clinch his primary victory.
None of these state and local officials will be on the Maryland ballot next year, meaning they won’t be actively campaigning here. Nor will the 27 members of Congress who have endorsed Trone, since none of them live in Maryland.
As Jawando says, “you got some good choices” for Senate, at least for Democrats. arguing, of course, that he’s the best. “Let’s take our time. This is a lifetime appointment. Whoever gets the seat will be there for 20, 30 years, God willing. So let’s send a fighter to the Senate.”