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Election 2024 Government & Politics

Final days of heated Senate campaign have some worried about healing party divisions

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D) and U.S. Rep. David Trone (D-6th) field questions at a U.S. Senate candidates forum hosted by the Democratic Club of Leisure World. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

A heated Democratic primary contest for U.S. Senate is raising concerns about the potential for a fractured party heading into the general elections in November, when the winner is almost certain to face popular former Gov. Larry Hogan (R).

U.S. Rep. David Trone (D-6th) and Prince George’s Couty Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D) are locked in a pitched battle atop a field of eight other candidates for the Democratic nomination to succeed retiring Sen. Ben Cardin (D). Both sides are pointing at their opponent, blaming the other for what they said is bitter campaign rhetoric. But as the campaigns head into the final week of early voting before the May 14 election day, state Treasurer Dereck Davis (D) says Trone’s words threaten to divide the party headed into November.

State Treasurer Dereck Davis (D). File photo by Bryan P. Sears.

“I think folks will unify to the degree that we can but words do matter,” said Davis, who has endorsed Alsobrooks. “The more divisive the rhetoric, the more personal it gets, the longer it takes for that healing process to occur. And Larry Hogan is no joke. He is going to be one heck of a candidate. As soon as the party is able to unify behind the winner and run united, I think the greater our chances are. But this tone that’s taking place, this level of discourse is taking place, it’s going to require more healing.”

Of particular concern to Davis was a recent television news report featuring both candidates.

Trone, in that interview on NBC 4 in Washington, made a comment Davis said was dismissive of the lengthy list of officials from Prince George’s County who endorsed Alsobrooks.

“People that know the county best, ironically, all came to us,” Trone said in the interview that aired Wednesday. “The people in Prince George’s County that stuck with [Alsobrooks] are the low-level folks. Top-level folks: that’s called the attorney general, I think. I think that’s called the state’s attorney. I think that’s called the senior senator. I think they’re the top-level folks.”

Trone was referring to three of his backers: Attorney General Anthony Brown (D), Prince George’s State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy (D), and state Sen. Joanne C. Benson (D-Prince George’s).

Davis said Trone’s rhetoric in that interview and in other instances “really wreaked havoc in our county.”

“It’s fine for elected officials to support whomever they deem is the best choice,” Davis said. “I don’t have any problem with that and if it’s not Angela, you know, so be it. They’re entitled to their opinion. But when we start demeaning, or belittling the accomplishments of others, I think that crosses the line and that’s where you start getting elected official against the executive official, the community against each other. That that’s just not warranted.”

A Trone spokesperson, Joe Bowen, said Trone grew frustrated during the TV interview because Prince George’s County officials who have endorsed him have been diminished by Alsobrooks allies because they’ve taken campaign contributions from Trone.

“He made that point very badly,” Bowen conceded.

“He’s apologetic about that but the facts are the facts,” Bowen continued. “Angela has been in elected office in Prince George’s County since 2015. She was endorsed by the vast majority of the legislators, but the folks who have served Prince George’s the longest, who served our state the longest, who know her the best have endorsed David Trone. I think that the things that those elected officials have to say deserve to be heard. And I think the voters also deserve to understand why they chose to make those decisions. And in that interview, David was frustrated that that part of the question never seems to come up.”

Trone supporters including, House Health and Government Operations Chair Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel), dismissed concerns that the Democratic primary will divide the party in November.

Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel). Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

“Let’s focus on the issues,” said Peña-Melnyk. “There’s too much at stake: women’s [reproductive] choice health care, the economy, immigration. Let’s focus on the issues. And I hope that after we are done, whoever wins, that we can all come together, and we can work hard to fight to make sure that Hogan does not get elected.”

Peña-Melnyk said Democrats need to avoid what she called the mistakes of the recent past when Brown, who was then the lieutenant governor, lost the 2014 race for governor to Hogan, the Republican.

“That’s what matters,” she said. “We cannot make the mistake again because we’ve been here before with Anthony Brown, where some people were never truly on board afterwards. We cannot make that mistake. We can’t afford to do that again.”

This is the second time in a week that allies of Alsobrooks have publicly criticized Trone over commercials or interviews.

Earlier this week, Alsobrooks supporters took umbrage with Trone over an ad they said portrayed Alsobrooks was unqualified for the Senate.

The TV spot features a lineup of current and former elected officials from Prince George’s County. All those featured had already endorsed Trone.

The otherwise innocuous campaign ad got spicy when County Councilmember Edward Burroughs III (D) says: “The U.S. Senate is not a place for training wheels.”

Nearly two-dozen Alsobrooks supporters, in a news conference organized by Prince George’s County Council President Jolene Ivey (D), blasted Trone for the swipe.

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D). Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

“It is frustrating that Congressman Trone is using his millions to attack Angela and continues to make remarks that alienate core constituencies of our Democratic base,” said Gina Ford, a spokesperson for the Alsobrooks campaign. “Angela continues to prove with every passing day that she is the only candidate who can defeat Larry Hogan in November — she has the broad coalition, the uplifting message, and the disciplined focus on the issues that matter most to Marylanders. Elections are about the future, and Angela is the only candidate speaking to that.”

The ad has since been re-cut, eliminating the “training wheels” comment and replacing it with additional footage of Benson and correcting an error in the ad pertaining to Trone’s work in Congress.

“Our team noticed a typographical error in the number of bills that David has passed through Congress,” according to a statement released by the Trone campaign. “While fixing that error, our editors found additional footage of our endorsers that they found compelling and chose to make a number of additional edits. All of the changes were made Friday evening, prior to the original ad being released.”

Despite the edit, Trone used a similar phrase during the May 1 NBC 4 television interview.

“This job is not for someone on training wheels,” Trone said in the interview. “This job is really for someone that’s really been doing the work and understands the relationships.”

To Davis, Trone’s words ring of self-criticism.

“The irony is he and some of his advocates mentioned training wheels,” Davis said. “The congressman has only been there five years. I mean, he’s not a grizzled veteran. And if you look at the irony of the statement, the House of Representatives is a co-equal branch to the Senate. And yet when he ran six years ago, for Congress, he had zero experience. Now after six years or coming up on six years, you’re in a position to talk about someone else needing training wheels?”

Davis said it is another example of Trone putting his foot in his mouth and noted Trone’s inadvertent use of a racial slur during a House budget hearing.

In March, Trone issued an apology after using the derogatory term, saying he mistakenly used the word having meant to say “bugaboo.” Only afterwards did he learn the verbal miscue was offensive to Blacks, he said in his apology.

“I think his own experience is showing in his own sort of lack of deft political touch,” Davis said.

In a statement, Bowen, the Trone spokesperson, said the criticisms are a diversion.

“The elected leaders featured in this ad endorsed David Trone because they know that he is the only candidate focused on putting people over politics and delivering real results for their communities,” he said.

“While David has focused on the ways that Washington is broken and proposed bold ideas that can fix Washington, our opponents and their supporters have fixated on which politicians have what status. Elected leaders like Attorney General Anthony Brown, State Senator Joanne Benson, Chairwoman Joseline Pena-Melnyk and State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy have worked closely with David for years, and they endorsed David for the United States Senate because they know he will beat Larry Hogan because David Trone is the most effective legislator in Maryland’s federal delegation, and Marylanders want a Senator who can get the job done in a divided Senate.”

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


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Final days of heated Senate campaign have some worried about healing party divisions