David Trone, the Democratic businessman running in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, has learned at least one thing from his unsuccessful congressional bid last year: Self-funding a political campaign is a turnoff for some voters.
Trone, co-owner of national liquor retailer Total Wine & More, blasted radio and television airwaves in his 2016 run for the 8th Congressional District after investing more than $13 million in his campaign. At the time, he eschewed fundraising and was accused by opponents of attempting to buy the seat.
He finished second in the 2016 primary, losing to a state lawmaker who went on to win the district in the November election, Rep. Jamie Raskin.
“One of the most important lessons I learned is that some people draw the wrong impression from self-funding,” Trone said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun on Monday evening.
“I self-funded to demonstrate my independence,” he said. “But it turns out one way to get people involved is to [ask them to] make a contribution.”
This time, as he campaigns for the district being left vacant by Rep. John Delaney’s decision to run for president, Trone said he will accept money from individuals but not political action committees or lobbyists.
And, he said, he may run fewer ads this election cycle. Given the previous advertising, his name is likely already well known.
“We’re certainly hopeful that we don’t have to spend as much money as we spent last time,” he said.
That doesn't mean Trone won’t still be putting a hefty amount of his own cash into his race — he said he is “going to continue to invest in winning” — but Trone appears to be looking at Delaney’s 2012 playbook as a model. Delaney, a former banker, raised large sums to augment his own checkbook that year.
Trone’s campaign has brought on a consultant who knows that playbook well: Justin Schall, a former Delaney campaign manager and chief of staff.
Though Trone is eager to turn conversations away from campaign mechanics and toward his policy ideas, how he handles the race is important. Trone’s deep pockets could have an early effect in scaring off candidates as well as third-party groups interested backing his competitors.
Two other Democrats have started to raise money for the 6th District, Maryland House Majority Leader C. William "Bill" Frick and Del. Aruna Miller. State Sen. Roger Manno, a former aide to several offices on Capitol Hill, announced last week he will seek the seat. Andrew Duck, the Democratic nominee in 2010, has also filed paperwork that allows him to raise money.
Through Trone has long been involved in politics — and has hosted presidents at his home for fundraisers — he has cast himself as a businessman first and an outsider in Washington.
“Three insiders and an outsider,” is how he defined the race, in reference to his three state-lawmaker opponents.
The 6th District, based in Montgomery County, includes portions of Frederick County and stretches into Western Maryland. Several Republicans are also looking at the district, which Delaney won only narrowly in the last midterm.
Trone, who lives outside the 6th Congressional District, was widely seen as splitting the centrist Democratic vote with Kathleen Matthews in last year’s primary in the 8th District. But Trone said he considers himself a “progressive, socially.” He is quick to drop Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ name and points to his support for free community college, infrastructure investment and criminal justice reform.
Trone has previously said he would fight for increased funding for the Bethesda-based National Institutes of Health — an idea that has won bipartisan support in Washington recently. He said he would push for transportation projects in Maryland, such as the proposed Purple Line, and would “protect” struggling farms.
Born in Cheverly and raised in Pennsylvania, Trone has built a business he said employs some 6,000 workers in 172 stores across the country, including 500 people at its headquarters in Bethesda.
“We feel like we really have something to give back,” Trone said. “We’ll be going living room to living room, neighborhood to neighborhood, to meet folks in all five counties. We look forward to listening.”