Could Anyone Stop David Trone in CD6?

By Adam Pagnucco.

The future plans of Congressman John Delaney remain unclear, but that has not stopped some potential candidates from expressing interest in his seat.  Two have filed paperwork to start raising money – Delegates Bill Frick (D-16) and Aruna Miller (D-15).  It’s time to examine what a potential open seat race in Congressional District 6 might look like.

Let’s begin by asking the obvious question: could anyone stop David Trone?

Trone, a co-owner of Total Wine and second-place finisher in the 2016 CD8 Democratic primary, is known to be looking at races for both Montgomery County Executive and CD6.  Trone shares certain characteristics with Delaney: both are successful, center-left businessmen who live in Potomac and have been active political contributors at the national level before running for office.  Delaney’s 25-point victory in 2012 over establishment favorite Senator Rob Garagiola (D-15) is no doubt encouraging to Trone because it provides a model for his own potential candidacy.  So far, five Montgomery County state legislators – Frick, Miller, Delegates Kirill Reznik (D-19) and Andrew Platt (D-17) and Senator Roger Manno (D-19) – have told the Sun that they would consider running in CD6.  There may be others as well as several Republicans.  But let’s start with the MoCo Five.  How do they compare to Trone?

Money

This is the elephant in the room.  Trone set a record for a self-funding candidate for Congress last year.  Here is how his potential MoCo rivals stack up to him in lifetime campaign receipts.

Money doesn’t make Trone invincible.  Senator Jamie Raskin (D-20) raised $2 million in the CD8 primary, was outspent by Trone by more than 6-1 and still defeated him by 7 points.  But money is a big advantage for Trone and none of these MoCo legislators has proven that they can raise anywhere near as much money as Raskin.

Geography

Unlike Trone, the five MoCo legislators represent legislative districts and presumably have relationships with their constituents.  Here is the number of Democratic voters in the portions of their districts that overlapped with CD6 during the last mid-term primary, which occurred in 2014.

None of these legislators represents a dominant share of CD6’s Democratic electorate.  Two of them – Miller (20%) and Reznik (16%) – represent a larger share of CD6 than Raskin did of CD8 (14%).  But Raskin’s in-district supporters were intensely invested in him and he was able to reach into other districts through many surrogates.  These legislators would have to do something similar in order to acquire an advantage over the others.

Now, what of the 43% of CD6 Democratic voters who do not live in any of these districts?  Aside from the handful who reside in four precincts in Legislative District 14, they live in the district’s four Western Maryland counties.  In the CD8 primary, Trone won absolute majorities of the vote in both Carroll and Frederick Counties.  Trone also won pluralities in Damascus, Gaithersburg, Glenmont/Norbeck, Potomac and Rockville.  The implication is clear: if each of these legislators gets in and holds most of their home territory, Trone could still win by running up big margins in Western Maryland and picking up pockets of votes in UpCounty MoCo.  Let’s remember that MANY of these residents were exposed to Trone’s millions of dollars in broadcast TV commercials last year.

Electoral Experience

Most of Trone’s potential rivals have not won an intense, hard-fought election like last year’s race in CD8.  Frick and Reznik were originally appointed to their seats.  Miller was inducted onto the District 15 incumbents’ slate in 2010 prior to winning an open Delegate seat.  The exception is Manno, who withstood some of the most depraved political attacks in recent MoCo history when he took out incumbent Senator Mike Lenett (D-19).  But CD6 is much larger than D19 and the potential reach of Manno’s prodigious door knocking – his favorite campaign tactic – is in question.

And then there is Trone himself.  After three months of all-out campaigning, Trone eclipsed a field of initially better-known candidates to finish on the brink of victory.  Our interview with Trone last year is instructive.  As a self-made man, Trone has a swagger that is off-putting to some who meet him.  But he has also endured significant tragedy and failure in his life that was key to his later triumphs.  Trone has an almost preternatural ability to reflect, learn and adapt.  His cover picture on Twitter even advises visitors to “Try Things… Get Comfortable with Failure.”

The thought of a wiser, more experienced and more strategic Trone should inspire dread in potential opponents.

And yet, Trone can be beaten.  Let’s look at the man who did it.  Jamie Raskin started out as one of MoCo’s best-ever challengers when he defeated twenty-year incumbent District 20 Senator Ida Ruben.  He spent the next ten years building progressive networks at both the national and local levels.  The former helped him raise millions of dollars; the latter gave him a grass-roots army that has been seldom seen in this county.  No prospective CD6 candidate checks all those boxes.

It will take two things to stop Trone if he runs for an open seat in CD6.  First, most of the MoCo legislators mentioned in the Sun would have to not run, thereby giving the remaining candidates room for electoral growth.  And second, one of Trone’s rivals would have to run the race of his or her life, far exceeding previous performances.

Raskin proved that it can be done.  But can it be done again?