David Trone Backs Out Of Debate With African-American Primary Opponent Amid Backlash Over Use of Racial Slur

Rep. David Trone (X/@davidjtrone)
April 4, 2024

Rep. David Trone (D., Md.) on Wednesday backed out of a televised debate with his Senate primary opponent, a black woman, amid ongoing fallout from his use of a racial slur.

Trone’s refusal to participate in the April 23 debate with Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks comes amid fallout from his "mistaken" use of a racial slur. In March, Trone used the word "jigaboo" as he bantered with Office of Management and Budget director Shalanda Young, also a black woman, about corporate tax rates.

The Maryland Democrat's use of the phrase had immediate repercussions for his campaign. Alsobrooks racked up high-profile endorsements from several members of the Congressional Black Caucus in the week following the incident, and a poll released Tuesday showed Alsobrooks chipping away at Trone’s lead in the race. The Goucher College and Baltimore Banner poll showed Trone with 42 percent support from Democratic voters in Maryland, with Alsobrooks trailing with 33 percent support.

The Trone campaign offered several perplexing explanations for the congressman's refusal to debate Alsobrooks on television.

Trone’s campaign said Wednesday the debate was a waste of time because he "has already participated in or committed to more than a dozen public forums and a televised debate." But Trone has not participated in any prior televised debate since launching his Senate campaign, and there are no other forthcoming debates scheduled before the May 14 primary. Trone’s campaign did not return a request for comment.

Televised debates weren’t a waste of Trone’s time during his 2022 House reelection campaign. The Total Wine cofounder railed against his then-Republican opponent, state Delegate Neil Parrott, for having "deprived the voters of this opportunity to hear from us" after Parrott refused to participate in a September 2022 televised debate hosted by the League of Woman Voters.

Trone has spent $23.2 million, flooding Maryland’s airwaves with ads since entering the race last year.

A source close to Trone’s campaign offered a different explanation for Trone’s refusal to debate Alsobrooks, telling the Washington Times that the congressman was too preoccupied with the collapse of Baltimore’s Key Bridge and his busy House schedule to attend the April 23 debate. But the House will be in recess the day of the scrapped debate.

Trone issued an apology to the Washington Post on March 21 for uttering "jigaboo" as he conversed with Young during a House Budget Committee hearing, saying he had intended to use the word "bugaboo." The Maryland Democrat also checked his privilege, saying he should have known better than to use such a term in any context.

"It should never be used any time, anywhere, in any conversation," Trone said. "I recognize that as a white man, I have privilege. And as an elected official, I have a responsibility for the words I use—especially in the heat of the moment. Regardless of what I meant to say, I shouldn’t have used that language."