David Trone Spent $62 Million To Win Maryland's Democratic Senate Primary. Will It Be Enough?

David Trone (cropped from Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
May 14, 2024

Is $61.8 million enough to secure victory in a hotly contested primary? Maryland representative David Trone will find out Tuesday evening.

Trone, co-owner of the $2.4 billion liquor retail chain Total Wine, has poured more money into his campaign than any Senate candidate in history. But the Democrat may still come up short, as polls show him stumbling under the weight of racially charged gaffes and increased scrutiny into his finances.

Trone held a seemingly insurmountable lead over his primary opponent, Prince George's County executive Angela Alsobrooks, a black woman, as recently as February. But Trone's political fortunes turned after he used the term "jigaboo," a racial slur, during a March hearing with the African-American director of the Office of Management and Budget, Shalanda Young. Trone apologized hours later, saying he meant to use the word "bugaboo." But the damage was done—several members of the Congressional Black Caucus endorsed Alsobrooks in the week following the incident.

Trone has also faced backlash for belittling Alsobrooks as an inexperienced politician, unprepared for the rigors of the Senate. He said her many state-level endorsements have been from "low-level folks" and cut a campaign ad in which a supporter says the Senate "is not a place for training wheels." Former Democratic National Committee chairwoman Donna Brazile said the ad was "not only disparaging and dismissive but also echoes tones of misogyny and racism."

An Emerson College poll released Thursday found Trone trailing Alsobrooks by 1 point, a seismic 25-point swing in the latter's favor since February.

Trone has also faced scrutiny of his personal finances. Trone pledged to step away from the daily operations of his Total Wine business empire after winning his first House term in 2018. But a Washington Free Beacon investigation found that Trone has maintained extensive involvement in his family business during his three terms in Congress, keeping his roles of director, president, secretary, treasurer, manager, co-manager, and co-president across eight Total Wine entities.

The congressman's campaign refused to say if Trone would relinquish his leadership roles with Total Wine if elected to Maryland's open Senate seat. The winner of Tuesday's primary will face off against the presumptive Republican nominee, former Maryland governor Larry Hogan.

Trone took umbrage at another Free Beacon report that identified over a dozen examples in congressional financial disclosures, dating back to 2016, in which he did not disclose his ownership stake in various Total Wine affiliates. Trone did not dispute the gaps in his financial disclosures but said he was not required to do so because his stakes in the businesses were worthless to him.

Nonetheless, Trone's attorneys said the report was "false" and demanded the Free Beacon retract the story. The Free Beacon did not retract the report.

As Trone has invoked legal threats to deflect scrutiny of his personal finances, he has also invoked his wealth as a selling point to Maryland voters.

"I think everybody who understands how politics works—that money helps drive it—realizes that having a candidate that can do an awful lot of self-funding is a big win," Trone told HuffPost this month.

Trone's legal threat to the Free Beacon is not the only example of the Maryland Democrat's hostility to the press. Trone accosted a local reporter last Tuesday and accused him of being a Republican "shill." The reporter had covered social media posts by Trone that painted the criminal justice system as "systemically racist."

"You should be ashamed of the journalism you did yesterday," Trone said as he put his finger in the face of Fox 5 journalist Tom Fitzgerald, footage of the exchange shows. "You took one line out of 20 and you should be ashamed of that type of journalism."