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Ex-GOP Gov. Hogan is popular with some Maryland Democrats who still don’t want him in the Senate

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Some Maryland Democrats have a soft spot for Larry Hogan, their former two-term Republican governor in a heavily blue state. But they don’t want to give up an open Senate seat — and possibly control of the chamber — to the GOP this year.

Party voters in Tuesday’s primary will decide which candidate they think is best positioned to beat Hogan in November in a state that hasn’t elected a Republican senator in more than 40 years. David Trone, who is serving his third term as a congressman, and Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks are the leading contenders among the 10 candidates.

After leaving an early voting center at an Annapolis recreation center, John Fischer said he had voted for Trone. It was a difficult choice for the 75-year-old retired federal employee. In the end, he opted for the candidate he believed had the most experience.

“I also think he can probably beat Larry Hogan, who I really like, except I have no intention of putting a Republican majority in the Senate — if I can help it,” said Fischer, who voted for Hogan for governor in 2014 and 2018.

Lisa Hartman, 65, voted at the same site for Alsobrooks, noting the candidate’s long list of high-profile supporters, including Gov. Wes Moore, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Rep. Steny Hoyer and former Sen. Barbara Mikulski .

“She had the support of almost everyone in the Democratic Party, and David Trone — I was so tired of hearing all her ads,” said Hartman, who also voted for Hogan for governor.

What you need to know about the 2024 elections

Trone, owner of a national liquor store chain called Total Wine & More, has invested more than $61 million of his own money in his primary bid, which could become a record for a self-financed Senate campaign.

Hartman said Trone’s ads were relentless. “I kind of feel like he’s trying to buy an election,” she said.

Hartman said she would have considered supporting Hogan in November under different circumstances. But given that Democrats are defending a slim majority in the Senate and have twice as many seats at stake this year as Republicans, she thinks the stakes are too high.

“I would love to vote for him in the next race, but I won’t because of this situation,” Hartman said, although she later added that she might change her mind.

In this government town about 30 miles from the nation’s capital, people tend to understand the political ramifications of the race.

“You hear it all over town, every time you go to a gathering of any type,” Hartman said.

Maryland Democrats have had to endure an avalanche of negative campaigning. A Trone ad included a local Prince George official saying, “The United States Senate is not a place to train. »

The attack ads worry prominent Democrats, who say party unity is crucial in an election that would normally go their way, given that Republicans are 2-1 statewide.

Trone points out that he won the election in a part of the state with more Republican voters than most other congressional districts in Maryland.

“Maryland voters know I am best positioned to beat Larry Hogan in November,” Trone said in a statement Friday. “Throughout this campaign, we have built a broad coalition led by workers excited about change. »

Alsobrooks is overwhelmed, but she said in an interview that she will have the support she needs to win in November — with an appeal that she believes will inspire Marylanders.

“If the message is simply to vote against Larry Hogan, that’s not the most compelling route,” she said Friday. “What I’m offering is a really positive message that will bring people together and I believe that’s what will help us win the general election.”

She said her campaign was based on increasing economic opportunity, investing in education, creating safer communities and protecting abortion rights.

Preserving reproductive freedom is an issue that Maryland Democrats hope will help them in November, as it has in other states since the Supreme Court in 2022 struck down the constitutional right to abortion. A constitutional amendment to enshrine the right to abortion is set to be voted on in Maryland in November.

Trone also supports abortion rights. In fact, the broad similarities between the candidates on policy issues may bring identity politics to the forefront. Alsobrooks would be Maryland’s first black U.S. senator in a state that is 29 percent black, the highest percentage in the nation of any state outside the Deep South.

That matters to Donna Gathright, 69, who cited Alsobrooks’ historical significance and extensive experience as a local official as main reasons to vote early for her in Annapolis.

“She was someone I knew better than others, and being a black woman, I also feel more seen and heard by people who look like me,” Gathright said. “I felt she could bring the interests of women and minority women more to the forefront.”

Maryland has long had women in its congressional delegation. Today, he no longer has any.

Alsobrooks is the chief executive of Maryland’s second-largest jurisdiction, and Prince George is home to the largest number of registered Democrats in the Washington suburbs. She highlighted donations Trone has made to Republican candidates in the past, including some who supported abortion bans.

“He spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat good Democratic candidates,” Alsobrooks said during a televised debate last month.

The money Trone spent on this campaign helped build connections with some voters.

“I’ve been listening to his ads for a few years now, and I’ve come to support a lot of the issues he’s spoken on,” said Anne Hamilton, 47, an early voter in Annapolis.

Trone criticized Alsobrooks for accepting large donations from special interests, which he did not feel the need to do because of his wealth.

“I’m the only candidate on this stage who doesn’t take money from Exxon,” Trone said during the debate. “They’re not helping us with the environment, I don’t think. I’m the only candidate here who doesn’t take money from Pfizer. Pfizer is not helping us reduce healthcare costs. »

Trone, who describes himself as a progressive Democrat willing to work with Republicans, emphasized his support for the state teachers union, which has about 75,000 members and enjoys considerable political influence. He is supported by prominent Prince George’s officials as well as Attorney General Anthony Brown, a former congressman from Alsobrooks’ home county.

Some Democratic leaders fear the ferocity of the campaign will make the race against Hogan more difficult. Six former Maryland Democratic Party chairmen expressed support for Alsobrooks in a joint announcement Wednesday and said Trone’s negative ads could jeopardize unity among Democrats.

“It is simply wrong to accept that self-funding is the solution to keeping Maryland’s Senate seat blue,” said a statement signed by Kathleen Matthews, Terry Lierman, Susie Turnbull, Peter Krauser, Ike Leggett and Yvette Lewis. “In fact, we need a candidate who can inspire women and voters of all ages and backgrounds. »

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