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New Candidate Already Spending Big in Maryland Race for Van Hollen Seat

The race for the Maryland congressional seat currently held by Van Hollen got a last-minute candidate. (File Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated: 3:22 p.m. |  With only a few days before the door closes on candidate filing in Maryland, one surprise candidate is on his way through – and he brought a big checkbook with him.  

David J. Trone, a 60-year-old businessman who made a fortune from his retail chain, Total Wine & More , announced his candidacy late Wednesday in the Democratic primary for Maryland’s open 8th District – potentially shaking it up with the millions he said he would be willing to spend ahead of the April primary.  “I’m going to spend absolutely what it takes,” he told Roll Call on Thursday. “We’re starting as a big underdog. I love hard work and new ideas. I love change and I don’t think a lot of folks in D.C. embrace change.”  

On Thursday afternoon, his campaign spent $900,000 for a 10 day advertising campaign on broadcast, cable and radio in the expensive Washington, D.C.-area market, two Democrats who track ad spending told Roll Call.  

Trone’s late entrance came several months after Maryland state Sen. Jamie Raskin and former television anchor turned Marriott executive Kathleen Matthews launched their own campaigns for the seat – rated Safe Democratic by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report /Roll Call – being vacated by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Democratic candidate for Senate.  

“I’m the anti-Trump,” said Trone, who shares a Wharton School background and a set of initials with New York City billionaire Donald J. Trump, who leads the Republican presidential polls. But like Trump, he has said he will not accept campaign contributions from political action committees and others whom he views as paying for a seat at the table with government leaders.  

The impact of Trone on the other candidates in the race, while Democrats believe it will be significant, is not yet certain. On the one hand, Maryland operatives said, he could help Raskin solidify the progressive base against candidates like himself and Matthews who hail from the business world. On the other, it could give Matthews an opportunity to shine as the only woman in the top tier of the race.  

On his website, his campaign has offered a peek of a 60-second biographical spot that will be coupled with shorter ads to introduce himself to voters, describing him as a once small businessman who “bet the farm” on a liquor store and won.  

But his business isn’t so small anymore – he boasted $2 billion in annual sales in an interview and one Maryland Democratic operative referred to it as the “Walmart of liquor stores” – and Trone, a contributor to both Democrats and Republicans in the past, has used his serious financial sway in an effort to boost his chances with state legislators to change the rules in favor of businesses like his.  

Trone said his reasoning was simple, giving an answer not unlike one used  by Trump to defend past contributions that might be unsettling to the voters he is now trying to lure.  

“What it says is if the opposition thinks that writing a check to Republicans is a bad thing, then the opposition means getting nothing done is a good thing. Politics is about getting access,” he said. “There’s nothing that we agree on at a personal level with those contributions, but they’re business.”  

In fact, Trone, who said he has wanted to be in Congress since he was 20 years old, described himself as a “progressive Democrat” who has written checks as large as seven figures to groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, and has supported liberal causes from strengthening abortion rights to limiting gun rights.  

Trone – like some of the other candidates have said in the past – said he expects the race to be fought over tactics rather than policy issues.  

“I think the biggest difference is approach. There’s a lot of rhetoric about falling on your own sword. That’s not really what it is about. It’s about finding practical solutions and trying to get something done,” he said.  

On Thursday, Matthews announced her campaign has $1.15 million in the bank, money she can use to fund voter outreach efforts and pay for advertising. She could also be boosted by national Democratic groups such as EMILY's List, which has endorsed her campaign.  

Contact Yokley at EliYokley@RollCall.com and follow him on Twitter @EYokley

Related:
Matthews, Raskin Take Different Paths in Maryland’s 8th District Primary
Raskin Hopes Grass Roots Will Grow to Maryland House Win
Six Female Representatives Endorse Matthews in Maryland
Roll Call Race Ratings Map: Ratings for Every House and Senate Race in 2016

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