Businessman Trone to enter competitive House contest

Total Wine & More co-owner David Trone will run for Congress

The wealthy owner of a national wine and beer retailer said Wednesday he will enter the contest for Congress in Maryland's 8th District, a move with the potential to significantly alter the landscape in one of the state's most competitive political contests.

David Trone, a Potomac resident and co-owner of the Bethesda-based Total Wine & More, said he will seek the Democratic nomination to succeed Rep. Chris Van Hollen in the Montgomery County-based district. Van Hollen, also a Democrat, is running for the Senate.

Trone, 60, will join what is already a crowded field of candidates that includes a former television news anchor and Marriott International executive, three state lawmakers and two former aides in the Obama administration, among others.

Though he is entering the contest late — the primary is April 26 — his capacity to finance a run by himself could mitigate the disadvantage of having to build a political operation from scratch.

Trone, a major political fundraiser who recently hosted President Barack Obama at his home for an event, said it is clear he would have to spend "a lot more money than anybody else" and "I'm happy to do that. I'm in this to win."

"We're a big underdog," Trone said. "We're in a race against time. We start off behind."

Trone said he is ardently pro-choice, supports tougher background checks for gun purchases and prison reform to reduce recidivism — all positions that are consistent with other Democratic candidates.

He also called for a doubling of funding at the Bethesda-based National Institutes of Health, in part to speed research on dementia and other neurological diseases.

Though he has given considerable money to Democrats, Trone is likely to face criticism from opponents over sums he has given to Republicans. Another candidate, former WJLA anchor Kathleen Matthews, has been pressed repeatedly to answer for a single donation she made to Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri in 2014.

Trone has made tens of thousands of dollars in donations to Republicans since 2000.

Born in Cheverly and raised in Pennsylvania, Trone has built a business he said employs some 5,000 workers in 130 stores across the country, including 500 people at its headquarters in Bethesda.

The 8th District includes portions of Montgomery, Frederick and Carroll counties.

Matthews and state Sen. Jamie Raskin, widely considered frontrunners in the contest, both raised about $1 million through the end of September.

If Trone is willing to match or exceed that level of spending on this own, he would instantly become a factor in the race. However, studies have shown that self-financed candidates have low rates of success.

Trone would likely present the greatest challenge to Matthews, who has touted her business bona fides as an executive at Marriott.

"I'm not in this race for myself or by myself," Matthews said in a statement in response to Trone's announcement. "I'm in this race with the support of thousands of people who believe that my progressive values and broad experience will break the gridlock in Congress and finally start to get things done for our families."

Trone said he would take no money from political action committees —donations that are made less frequently to non-incumbents, anyway — and said he also would limit individual donors to $10, a significant disadvantage that Trone acknowledged means he would "virtually self-finance."

In addition to Matthews and Raskin, the race for the Democratic nomination includes Dels. Kumar Barve and Ana Sol-Gutierrez, former Obama administration officials Will Jawando and Joel Rubin, and David Anderson of Potomac.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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