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Election 2024 Government & Politics

Endorsement game intensifies in Democratic Senate primary

Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy (D) endorsed U.S. Rep. David Trone (D-6th) for Senate Thursday. Photo by William J. Ford.

With mail-in voting already under way, and the election less than a month from now, the number and pace of high-profile endorsements is intensifying in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.

On Thursday, two powerful Black women officeholders from Prince George’s County announced they were backing U.S. Rep. David Trone (D-6th) over their own county executive, Angela Alsobrooks (D), who is bidding to become the first Black woman to win statewide office in Maryland, and just the third elected to the U.S. Senate. Trone also picked up the endorsement of a white female state senator who might also be expected, at first glance, to embrace Alsobrooks.

But by late afternoon Thursday, the Alsobrooks camp could counter with an endorsement from The Washington Post editorial board, which could help move undecided voters, particularly in the state’s largest jurisdiction, Montgomery County.

Along the way Thursday, EMILY’s List, a prominent Democratic fundraising group that is backing Alsobrooks, issued a denunciation of Trone. And on Friday, an organization that works, in its own words, to counter “corporate bullies,” will begin airing an ad targeting Trone, the co-owner of the Total Wine & More national liquor chain.

The punching and counter-punching took place a day before Trone and Alsobrooks face their first — and very likely only — televised debate Friday evening, which could also move the needle. Most political professionals agree that Trone is leading in the Democratic primary at the moment, thanks in part to a barrage of advertising that’s been a product of his willingness to spend more than $41 million of his own money on the campaign so far. But they disagree on how wide the margin is.

Every endorsement has its own back story and carries its own weight. But the news Thursday that Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy (D) and state Sen. Joanne C. Benson (D-Prince George’s) were backing Trone over Alsobrooks seemed particularly potent.

Braveboy is Alsobrooks’ successor as state’s attorney and has often praised her in public settings — though the two have clashed occasionally over crime-fighting policy. Benson is the senior female Black officeholder in Prince George’s, having served in the legislature since 1991, with a devoted following in her district.

They join a roster of Prince George’s women of color in public office who have endorsed Trone, including Del. Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk (D), the chair of the House Health and Government Operations Committee, Del. Deni A. Taveras (D), and County Councilmember Krystal Oriadha (D). Peña-Melnyk is appearing in a Trone TV ad and Oriadha is in a radio spot highlighting Trone’s support in Prince George’s.

“Prince George’s County deserves a dedicated champion in the United States Senate who will transcend political differences and unite us all to achieve what’s best for our residents and every Marylander,” Braveboy said. “I don’t just know the person that David Trone is, I know the track record he’s established.”

Benson said Trone “is in public service for all the right reasons.”

Even though Trone’s recent endorsements are noteworthy, Alsobrooks still has far more support from Black women officials in her home territory, including Clerk of the Circuit Court Mahasin El Amin, six state lawmakers, and four members of the County Council.

“Angela’s proud of the support she’s received from Prince George’s leaders, to include the majority of our Council and of our state delegation,” Alsobrooks campaign spokesperson Gina Ford wrote in an email to Maryland Matters Thursday. “Angela is also so honored to have earned the support of the majority of our Democratic federal delegation, but the most important endorsement will come from voters in Election Day.”

Alsobrooks continues to have far more endorsements from Maryland elected officials than Trone, though the gap has narrowed some in recent weeks.

On Thursday, state Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery) moved from notably undecided to the Trone column.

“I’ve been watching and waiting,” she said in a video, adding she is confident Trone will be “100% pro-choice” and suggesting he has a better chance of defeating former Gov. Larry Hogan (R) in the fall.

Although Kagan is a longtime leader on women’s issues in Annapolis, EMILY’s List, the group that promotes Democratic women who support abortion rights and has endorsed Alsobrooks, issued a statement Thursday criticizing Trone for appearing to downplay the importance of electing women to the state’s congressional delegation, which is currently all-male, during a recent television interview.

During the interview, WJLA-TV’s Brad Bell asks Trone about the argument Alsobrooks allies are making, that the delegation needs more women.

“We’re probably going to elect two women to the delegation [in November], so that’s going to be off the table pretty shortly,” Trone says, in an apparent reference to leading candidates in open seat races in the 3rd and 6th congressional districts, which have highly competitive primaries. He then pivots to talk about his opposition to the death penalty, his support for Planned Parenthood’s programs, and his refusal to take contributions from corporate political action committees.

EMILYs List President Jessica Mackler called Trone’s response “deeply insulting.”

EMILY’s List President Jessica Mackler. Photo from the Minnesota Reformer.

“Rep. David Trone’s dismissive comments on gender diversity reveal a disturbing pattern of tone-deafness and indifference,” she said. “His assertion that the possible addition of two women to an all-male Maryland delegation is enough is not only ignorant, but deeply insulting to those fighting for greater representation and inclusion.”

Mackler pointed out, as Alsobrooks has, that Trone has made campaign contributions through the years to prominent Republicans who oppose abortion rights. And she reiterated that EMILY’s List “proudly stands with Angela Alsobrooks.”

But the organization has yet to run any TV ads on Alsobrooks’ behalf, which could help boost her profile as Trone continues to dominate the airwaves. A spokesperson did not respond to an email Thursday asking if EMILY’s List has any plans to go on the air in Maryland before the primary.

But another advocacy group is about to begin airing an anti-Trone ad. An organization called Fight Corporate Monopolies will announce Friday that it will air the ad on Hulu, Paramount+, YouTube, and additional connected TV services across Maryland.

The 30-second spot features unflattering pictures of Trone — including one in which he appears to be standing next to former President Donald Trump — along with negative headlines about Total Wine and Trone’s business practices. “Maryland, we don’t need another billionaire bully,” the narrator says at the end of the ad. “Let’s fix our democracy.”

Even more helpful to Alsobrooks’ candidacy than the ad is the endorsement Thursday from the Post. The editorial board praised her record as county executive and wrote, “Our conversation with Ms. Alsobrooks convinced us she has mastered local and state issues — although she’ll face a learning curve about federal issues unrelated to Maryland and about foreign policy. Her approach to issues gives us confidence she’ll ascend that curve rapidly. Ms. Alsobrooks doesn’t take knee-jerk stands. She’s not full of bluster. She studies carefully and talks to all sides before making decisions.”

The editorial also called Trone’s record “creditable” and said Democratic voters are lucky to have two good choices for Senate.

With all of Thursday’s drama, the two candidates will appear together at a forum that will air on WBFF-TV in Baltimore Friday at 8 p.m.

William J. Ford contributed to this report.

Disclosure: The David and June Trone Family Foundation was a financial supporter of Maryland Matters in 2017 and 2018.


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Endorsement game intensifies in Democratic Senate primary