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Already historic Senate race gets more so, as Alsobrooks gets nod to take on Hogan

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Already historic Senate race gets more so, as Alsobrooks gets nod to take on Hogan

May 15, 2024 | 2:12 am ET
By Danielle J. Brown William J. Ford Bryan P. Sears Josh Kurtz
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Already historic Senate race gets more so, as Alsobrooks gets nod to take on Hogan
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Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D) speaks to supporters after winning the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate on May 14, 2024. Photo by William J. Ford.

Maryland Democrats appeared to make history Tuesday by nominating a Black woman to be their standard-bearer in the U.S. Senate race against Republican former Gov. Larry Hogan in November.

With 97% of precincts reporting, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks had 54% of the vote to 42% for Rep. David Trone (D-6th), ending a bitter campaign and the most expensive Senate primary in state history.

Alsobrooks will face off against Hogan in November, a rare Senate general election of consequence in Maryland. In unofficial returns, the former governor defeated his closest opponent, former state delegate and frequent candidate Robin Ficker, 62% to 30%. The GOP primary was called for Hogan less than an hour after polls closed.

Hogan and Alsobrooks will battle for the right to replace three-term Sen. Ben Cardin (D), who is stepping down after a 58-year career in politics.

Democrats expected that holding the seat would be easy; Republicans last won a Maryland Senate election in 1980. But Hogan’s entry in the race — on Feb. 9, the candidate filing deadline — transformed the state’s general election political landscape, and made electability in November a major part of Trone’s and Alsobrooks’ pitches to Democratic voters.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee wasted no time, announcing a campaign Tuesday night targeting Hogan as a “lifelong Republican” whose election could give control of the Senate to the GOP. The lifelong Republican phrase was echoed by Alsobrooks during her victory speech, in which she said a Hogan victory could give Republicans the majority they need in the Senate to pass national abortion restrictions and appoint anti-choice judges.

And Hogan wasted no time making his pitch to Democrats and independent voters. Standing on a stage at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Annapolis, Hogan appealed to the coalition that helped him win two elections in a state where registered Democrats hold a roughly 2-1 advantage.

Already historic Senate race gets more so, as Alsobrooks gets nod to take on Hogan
Former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) greets supporters in Annapolis Tuesday night before declaring victory in the 2024 Republican U.S. Senate primary. Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

“To my Democratic and independent friends tonight, you know me. You know my proven track record of reaching across the aisle to find common ground for the common good,” Hogan said. “You know that I’m not going to be just one more Capitol Hill Republican.

“You know that I have the courage to put people over politics and to put country over party,” he said. “And you know that I will stand up to the current president, the former president, to the Democratic Party or the Republican Party.”

Hogan is sure to face an onslaught of attacks from Democrats in a year when both abortion and Donald Trump are on the November ballot, along with control of the Senate.

In the Democratic campaign, Alsobrooks rode the strength of support from the party establishment to her victory over Trone’s millions of self-funded campaign spending.

“Money can’t buy love,” Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller (D) told an enthusiastic crowd of Alsobrooks supporters at an election night watch party at Martin’s Crosswinds in Greenbelt.

The Maryland Senate race is already the most expensive election in the state’s history, shaped mainly by Trone’s ability to self-fund his campaign almost without limitation. Trone has spent at least $61.77 million of his own money on the race, according to campaign finance records.

Alsobrooks raised a healthy $7.8 million, helped in the last 10 days of the campaign by a $2.5 million ad buy from Women Vote, a political action committee affiliated with EMILY’s List. But it was no match for Trone’s unusual financial advantage. Trone was on the airwaves months earlier than Alsobrooks, and was able to target his message — on TV and radio, in digital ads and in slick campaign mailers — to distinct segments of the Democratic electorate.

But Trone’s enormous cash advantage was not enough. While the crowd at Trone’s election night party at the Baltimore Museum of Industry was buzzing after polls closed, things started to quiet down around 10 p.m. as returns began to break in Alsobrooks’ favor. By 10:45, Trone was delivering a quick concession speech, in which he told his supporters to “come together as a party” and back Alsobrooks, without mentioning her by name.

“I called my opponent. We had a chat. I conceded and I wished her best of luck. Offered our support,” Trone said. “And I need all of you to come together to support the Democratic Party so we can hold the U.S. Senate.”

He left without taking questions after his three-minute speech.

Alsobrooks said she spoke to Trone and “we are united in our focus to keep the Senate blue and I am grateful to have his support.”

Experts say she will need it: Despite a nearly 2-to-1 Democratic voter registration advantage in Maryland, Alsobrooks will again bank on the support of the Democratic establishment to beat Hogan, who was twice elected to statewide office.

Already historic Senate race gets more so, as Alsobrooks gets nod to take on Hogan
U.S. Rep. David Trone (D) concedes to Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D) as the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate on May 14, 2024. Photo by Danielle J. Brown.

Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said Tuesday afternoon that Hogan won two terms as governor by picking up Democratic votes, and he had a message for Democrats who supported Trone.

“They’ve got a choice: Either reunify and do it sincerely, or look to Maryland perhaps deciding control of the Senate for Republicans by electing Larry Hogan,” Eberly said. “I mean, the price of not unifying is pretty darn high.”

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-5th), who easily won his primary for reelection Tuesday, said either Trone or Alsobrooks could beat Hogan, but “Angela was the strongest candidate we could run to hold this seat. The people today said about her being the strong candidate, they said ‘Amen. Amen. Amen.’”

Outside the polling place at Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School in Upper Marlboro, where Alsobrooks began her day, Brandi Petway said one of the reasons she voted for the county executive was the looming fight over abortion rights.

“What better person to speak on women’s issues than a woman?” asked Petway, a human resources worker for Giant Food in Jessup. “She’s a strong woman. She has a very strong personality and is not afraid to speak out on the issues that we all feel strongly about.”

Hogan is sure to face questions about access to abortion in a year when Maryland voters will be asked to approve a constitutional amendment guaranteeing a woman’s right to the procedure. There is also concern that Republican control of the House and Senate could lead to a national law limiting access.

Hogan, a lifelong Republican, has repeatedly repudiated former President Donald Trump, the  presumed 2024 Republican nominee. But he’s also said he would caucus with his own party if elected.

A Catholic, Hogan has said he personally opposes abortion but won the governor’s office twice, deftly avoiding the topic, saying it was settled law and that he would not try to change the state’s abortion laws passed more than 30 years ago.

But he also vetoed legislation that would have expanded abortion provider training. When that veto was overridden, he withheld $3.5 million in state funding for the training. Gov. Wes Moore (D) released the money as one of his first acts after being sworn in.

Hogan took on the issue Tuesday night.

“Let me once again, set the record straight tonight, for the women of Maryland, you have my word that I will continue to protect your right to make your own reproductive health decisions,” he said.

Already historic Senate race gets more so, as Alsobrooks gets nod to take on Hogan
Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks is joined on stage by Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) and other members of the state’s federal delegation May 14, 2024. Photo by William J. Ford.

Hogan’s victory in a seven-candidate primary field was not unexpected. During the campaign, Hogan all but ignored his six opponents, including Ficker, who put more than $4 million of his own money into the race.

Ficker, whose loss Tuesday was his 22nd failed campaign, had emphasized his support of Trump while Hogan focused on emphasizing his own brand of Republican politics.

Hogan reached out repeatedly to the more than 113,000 Republicans who requested mail-in ballots. In videos and social media messages, Hogan encouraged those voters to return their ballots before the polls closed Tuesday. Eberly, the  political science professor, said that ran counter to Trump’s insistence in 2020 “on the nonsense that mail-in voting can’t be trusted.”

“As a result, MAGA voters tend to vote on Election Day. Well, Larry Hogan isn’t looking for their vote. Larry Hogan is looking for the moderate, mainstream Republican people who don’t spend their days sort of lost in conspiracy theories about voter fraud and what have you,” Eberly said.

A senior Hogan campaign official downplayed the idea that they were seeking to appeal to an anti-Trump wing of the party with vote-by-mail appeals, saying mail-in voters are more likely to return their ballots and represent more of “a captive audience.”

“I feel pretty confident that we’re going to do just fine with early voting and on Election Day voting,” the campaign official told reporters.

Meanwhile, Yvette Lewis, former Maryland Democratic Party chair and an Alsobrooks supporter, said Democrats with hurt feelings need to “pick up the phone tomorrow morning and start making calls and mending fences. That’s what I always did the day after the election,” she said shortly after the polls closed Tuesday night.

“The ultimate thing for us to do is to win in November,” Lewis said. “This [primary] was a battle. This wasn’t the war. The war is coming.”

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