May 5, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Maryland emerges as 2024's most brutal Senate primary

Left: Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, wearing a blue blazer, pink blouse and glasses, standing in front of a white backdrop with her name on it. Right: Rep. David Trone, wearing a dark blue suit, light blue shirt and blue tie.

Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (left) and Rep. David Trone (right). Photos: Bill Clark and Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images.

The Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in Maryland is rapidly devolving into one of the most bitter intra-party contests of the 2024 election cycle.

Why it matters: Whoever emerges from the bruising May 14 primary will likely face an electoral juggernaut in Republican former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.

  • Republicans hope that making the seat competitive – albeit still likely Democratic, according to the Cook Political Report – will force Democrats to defend more territory than expected in an already difficult 2024 map.
  • Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said Maryland Democrats are "all committed to dampening down the negativity and preparing to support whoever wins."
  • "This is so much bigger than any individual's ego or career ambitions. This really is about the future of the country. We cannot afford to lose a Senate seat," he told Axios.

State of play: Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) is running against Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks to replace retiring Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.).

  • Trone, the wealthy owner of Total Wine, has loaned his campaign at least $54 million, per FEC filings.
  • But Alsobrooks, who would make history as Maryland's first Black senator, has the backing of most of Trone's colleagues in the state's congressional delegation.

The latest: Trone has courted controversy and outrage in recent weeks with a series of inflammatory comments.

  • After Trone inadvertently used a racial slur at a committee hearing in March, several Congressional Black Caucus members got off the sidelines to endorse Alsobrooks.
  • Last week, Trone ran an ad in which a Black local official said of Alsobrooks: "The U.S. Senate is not a place for training wheels." The ad was rebroadcast without the line following backlash from Black women.
  • On Saturday, dozens of local and state officials signed onto statements slamming Trone for referring to Alsobrooks' endorsers in her home county as "low-level folks."

What we're hearing: These incidents have caught some of Trone's colleagues who endorsed Alsobrooks off guard.

  • The "training wheels" ad "indicated to me that Alsobrooks really does have a lot of momentum," Raskin said. "I don't think they wanted to go negative ... that feels like a reaction to some bad news."
  • Rep. Glenn Ivey (D-Md.), in reference to the "low-level" comment, noted that he and former House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) both represent Prince George's County and support Alsobrooks.
  • "I was a little surprised to hear a comment like that ... some people think Congress is a high-level office," he told Axios.

The other side: "Our opponent and their supporters have been attacking David Trone for nearly a year, and now a Super PAC backed by a Larry Hogan donor is airing negative attacks to distract Maryland voters," the Trone campaign said in a statement.

  • "David Trone is the only candidate in this race who can beat Larry Hogan, that's why his own donors are propping up outside attacks to deliver Mitch McConnell's chosen candidate their preferred opponent."
  • State Sen. Jill Carter, who is Black, argued it is "deeply hypocritical" to claim the race is "about making history" because "no ire" was directed at Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) for defeating a Black woman to claim his seat in 2016.
  • Alsobrooks supporters should "move beyond the dagger throwing so we can focus on defeating Larry Hogan," Carter told Axios.

What to watch: Trone's "low-level" remark appears to be reverberating beyond the Senate race and creating tension within the Maryland delegation.

  • Ivey told Axios that Trone and the rest of the delegation had "been able to work together," but "I don't know if that's changed in the wake of his ... strange comment."
Go deeper