‘Career politicians’ label is flashpoint in US Senate race; David Trone says he’d only serve two terms if elected

‘Career politicians’ label is flashpoint in US Senate race; David Trone says he’d only serve two terms if elected

More than any policy issue, life experience has emerged as a flashpoint in a U.S. Senate race between two elected officials shunning the “career politician” label as they race to define themselves to Maryland voters as the most real.

Six weeks after clashing in a forum over their backgrounds, Democratic candidates David Trone and Angela Alsobrooks eagerly tout their personal histories — he as a self-made multi-millionaire from a struggling Pennsylvania farm family, and she as a mom and lifelong Marylander inspired by her parents and grandparents to pursue a public service career.

Trone, 68, the wealthy co-founder of the Total Wine & More retail chain who is in his third two-year term representing Frederick County and Western Maryland in the U.S. House of Representatives, intends to double down on the issue.

He told The Baltimore Sun on Jan. 9 that he plans to announce a series of democracy reform proposals that would include limiting U.S. senators — including himself if elected — to two six-year terms. “No one should ever work for the government their entire life,” he said. The campaign declined to release the other proposals until the announcement later this month.

Trone, who lives in Montgomery County, and Alsobrooks, 52, the second-term Prince George’s County executive, are top contenders in the race to succeed Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin, whose term ends in January 2025, and is not seeking reelection.

Trone spent nearly $10 million — the vast majority of it from money he lent his campaign — during the first three quarters of 2023, compared to Alsobrooks’ $1.2 million. Trone told The Sun his campaign is “looking right now at spending probably $30 million between Jan. 1 and (primary) Election Day” on May 14. Alsobrooks’ campaign said in a news release last week that it raised more than $5 million last year and had $3.1 million in campaign cash on hand. The candidates’ complete campaign finance reports for 2023, listing donors and expenditures, aren’t due until the end of the month.

Trone, who says he is living “the American dream” because he rose from a rural farm family, repeatedly targeted “career politicians” at a Dec. 3 candidates’ forum that included Alsobrooks and longtime business executive Juan Dominguez, who has since withdrawn and is instead running for the 3rd Congressional District seat being vacated by Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes.

“There’s no question career politicians don’t have the lived experience, the lived experience that we all need to come up with new ideas,” Trone said at the forum. He said, without mentioning Alsobrooks by name, that the Founding Fathers did not envision “people just working forever for the government, and never be on payroll, never experienced a challenge in life.”

Alsobrooks replied at the  forum, hosted by the Latino Democrats of Prince George’s County, that “It is so intellectually dishonest — I just had to say it — for someone to be a three-term congressman still seeking more opportunities to be in public service and to regard that and speak about it in a disparaging way.”

Two days later, Montgomery County state Del. Jheanelle Wilkins and four other state or local elected officials said in a news release that Trone should apologize to Alsobrooks, whom they said was not only “made history” as Maryland’s first Black county executive, but “has valuable experience as a woman, a mother and the daughter of aging parents.”

Trone replied “Oh, absolutely not” when asked by The Sun if he would apologize.

“That was a comment about how we need different types of people in Congress,” he said.

Trone then recounted his own background of his family’s farm going bankrupt, his father’s alcoholism and other struggles before starting his business.

“I got my dad through dozens and dozens of AA meetings, and he came out on the good. Then I hired my dad back and he worked for me, and I supported my mother and everybody else. That’s lived experience,” he said.

Alsobrooks was not available to be interviewed, according to her campaign. But Sheila O’Connell, her campaign manager, said Alsobrooks’ pitch “is really about her record of accomplishments, combined with her lived experience and what she’ll do in the U.S. Senate for Maryland. That path to victory is very clear and very strong for us.”

Alsobrooks has said during the campaign that her administration has invested heavily “in communities that have been left behind,” worked to end food deserts, and broken ground on new schools.

Her experience also includes “raising a teenage daughter during the pandemic who’s now in college, looking firsthand at the impact this pandemic had on our families across the country, and she’s also helping to take care of her aging parents,” O’Connell said.

Alsobrooks hired O’Connell, who has been a Democratic strategist in the state for years, in December to replace Dave Chase. Before joining Alsobrooks, Chase was the campaign manager for Ohio Democrat Tim Ryan during his close U.S. Senate race loss to Republican J.D. Vance in 2022.

Asked about the switch, an Alsobrooks spokeswoman referred a reporter to a Dec. 19 statement welcoming O’Connell and thanking Chase for his contributions without addressing the reason for the change.

Trone and Alsobrooks each had careers — he as a business executive and she as a prosecutor — before seeking office.

Trone was raised in Adams County, Pennsylvania, near the Maryland border. He was first elected to the House in 2018 and has been reelected twice. He previously lost a congressional bid in 2016 for the seat now held by Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin. He has been endorsed by House Democratic leaders Hakeem Jeffries and Katherine Clark, among other lawmakers, and the Maryland State Education Association.

Alsobrooks, who was raised in Prince George’s County, attended the University of Maryland School of Law and clerked in the circuit courts of Howard County and Baltimore City. She became a Prince George’s County assistant state’s attorney in 1997. She was elected in 2010 to the first of two terms as the county’s state’s attorney and has since won two terms as county executive. She says her parents and other family members were role models because they devoted time to community members when they were sick or needed other help.

She has endorsements from Gov. Wes Moore, U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Mayor Brandon Scott,  Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. and many other top state Democrats.

Unlike in previous Senate elections, there is no candidate from Baltimore, the state’s largest city. The candidates are seeking to adopt Baltimore or, more importantly, have Baltimore adopt them.

Trone’s campaign has been visiting Baltimore frequently and emphasizing issues — such as combating opioid overdoses and improving access to mental health care — of particular concern to the city.

Alsobrooks is also targeting Baltimore. Her prominent Baltimore endorsers have an important role to play as liaisons between her and the city, said Democratic state Sen. Cory McCray, who has endorsed her.

McCray and other local officials recently took Alsobrooks on an East Baltimore tour that included stops at the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum and Roberta’s House, a family grief support center.

In a promotional video on her behalf, McCray touted not her political credentials but her “love of family, love of community and love of service.”

Those are the values, he said in an interview, that Baltimoreans will respond to.

“We want to see you in church, we want to see you at our events,” McCray said. “I know how to get it done in Baltimore City.”

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