After two tries and more than $30 million spent out of his own pocket, businessman David Trone is headed to Capitol Hill.
Trone—the co-owner of Total Wine & More, a nationwide retail chain with 190 outlets in 23 states—Tuesday defeated national security consultant Amie Hoeber, a former deputy undersecretary of the Army in the Reagan administration who was making her second try for the District 6 congressional seat. The current occupant of the seat, Democratic U.S. Rep. John Delaney, opted not to seek a fourth term.
With about 90 percent of the vote reporting Tuesday night, Trone held a 56-41 percent lead over Hoeber—similar to the margin by which Delaney defeated Hoeber in 2016.
“If we don’t pull together, we are not going to be able to move this country forward,” Trone told supporters gathered at the Marriott Washingtonian Center in Gaithersburg. “We’re going to stay civil, we’re going to stay compassionate,” he vowed, following a heated campaign where civility was sometimes in short supply.
As he did during the campaign, Trone—who lost a nephew last year to opioid abuse—pledged to make the opioid crisis a top priority in Congress. “It’s going to cost money, and that’s OK, because it’s costing us lives right now,” he declared.
While Trone had a modest edge in Election Day returns, his lead was coming largely from a better than 2-1 advantage in early voting results. As expected, Hoeber was handily winning the three Republican-leaning counties in the western portion of the district, but these victories were overwhelmed by the Trone’s better than 3-1 lead in Montgomery County—home to about half of the 6th District electorate.
While the 6th District contest was considered the most competitive congressional race in Maryland this year, most national political handicappers had put heavy odds on a Democratic win—in large measure because of the redistricting that followed the 2010 census. Under then-Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley and the Democratic-controlled General Assembly, the 6th District was redrawn in a manner that turned what had been a reliably Republican district into a Democratic-leaning constituency.
Trone will join the two other members of Congress representing Montgomery County—Reps. Jamie Raskin of Takoma Park and John Sarbanes of Towson on Capitol Hill, as Democrats recaptured the House majority that the party lost eight years ago.
Raskin, who first won his 8th District seat in 2016 following a primary in which he bested Trone, easily turned back a challenge from Silver Spring-based businessman John Walsh to win a second term; he led by better than 2-1 with nearly 90 percent of the vote reporting. Sarbanes was holding a 2 ½-1 lead over retired Army officer Charles Anthony of Silver Spring with 85 percent of the vote in to capture a seventh term in the House.
The 6th District seat opened up last year when Delaney, a wealthy financial services entrepreneur first elected to Congress in 2012, announced that he would forego a bid for a fourth term in favor of a run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Hoeber, who lost her 2016 challenge to Delaney by a 56-40 percent margin, announced she would try for a second time. And Trone, after his loss to Raskin in neighboring District 8 two years ago, also jumped into the 6th District race after months of also weighing whether to run for Montgomery County executive.
The latest available filings with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) show Trone sinking more than $17 million into his campaign during the primary and general election campaign during the 2017-2018 election cycle, a new national record for a self-funded candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives.
By comparison, Hoeber’s personal campaign committee collected less than $1 million during the 2017-2018 cycle, with about two-thirds of that—nearly $620,000—coming from the candidate herself. But this does not include $1.6 million in contributions that Hoeber’s husband, telecommunications executive Mark Epstein, made to two so-called “Super PACs” that, in turn, reported spending about $1.4 million to promote Hoeber’s candidacy—including underwriting several mailings and radio ads sharply critical of Trone’s background.
Epstein also donated $3.8 million in 2016 to another independent expenditure Super PAC that sought to boost Hoeber’s challenge to Delaney. Unlike candidate campaign committees, Super PACs are allowed to accept unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations and labor unions—but are barred under federal law from coordinating with a candidate’s personal committee.
The District 6 general election race this year once again pitted two candidates who are not residents of the district against each other—as was the case in 2016. Like Delaney, both Hoeber and Trone are Potomac residents who live in District 8, not far from the District 6 line. The Constitution requires only that a member of the U.S. House reside in the state that he or she represents, not the specific district.
District 6 extends 200 miles from the western portion of Montgomery County—including much of Potomac and Gaithersburg—to the western edge of the Maryland panhandle. Besides the western part of Montgomery County, the district also includes portions of Frederick County around the city of Frederick as well as all of Allegany, Garrett and Washington counties
Unlike two years ago, when Trone sought the District 8 Democratic nomination and finished second—spending a then-record $13.4 million of his personal assets in the process—the multimillionaire businessman emerged this past June as the winner of an eight-way contest for the party’s District 6 nod.
This time, Trone reached into his own pocket for $11.5 million to underwrite his 40 percent to 31 percent primary victory over state Del. Aruna Miller of Darnestown—with pediatrician and author Nadia Hashimi of Potomac and state Sen. Roger Manno of Silver Spring finishing in third and fourth place, respectively, each with about 10.5 percent of the vote.
As was the case in 2016, the level of Trone’s self-funding of his campaign provided fodder for his opponents throughout the primary and general election this year. Two of Trone’s endorsements in the primary came from U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker: Both were major beneficiaries of Trone financial contributions during their respective 2014 and 2018 bids for governor, prompting charges that their support was little more than a payback for those donations.
While Hoeber had emerged as the Republican nominee two years ago after an intense primary against seven other candidates, she had little trouble securing the nomination this time around. She won the June primary against three little known, thinly funded opponents.
But just as the general election campaign was poised to go into high gear after Labor Day, Trone in late August announced that he was undergoing chemotherapy for a “localized cancer” following discovery of a tumor in his urinary tract. The disclosure came only after attendees at a couple of events noticed that Trone appeared to be thinner and losing his hair, stirring discussion within party circles about whether he should have revealed his condition sooner.
Trone underwent surgery on Sept. 11 for removal of a kidney, and was back on the campaign trail a little more than two weeks later, shortly before announcing that he was cancer-free and did not require further chemotherapy.
The first and only face-to-face debates of the general election campaign between Hoeber and Trone took place back-to-back in Gaithersburg and Hagerstown on Oct. 23 and 24. While there were a few verbal shots taken at each other, the two events were largely civil affairs—belying the increasingly nasty tone of the advertising in the race.
Shortly before the first debate, one of the Super PACs supporting Hoeber—the Value In Electing Women Political Action Committee—aired a radio ad on several stations in the district pointing to an episode early in Trone’s business career, when he was arrested three times and faced several criminal charges as he tangled with Pennsylvania regulatory authorities. The ad did not mention that the charges against Trone—which resulted from disputes over his efforts to sell beer at discounted prices—were ultimately dropped in all three instances, although Trone made a $40,000 payment to authorities as part of the settlement of the third case.
Another pro-Hoeber Super PAC, the Defending Main Street SuperPAC Inc., sent out a mailer picturing Trone with dollar bills in the background, which read: “David Trone thinks he can buy anything. He bought his way out of trouble … . Now he’s trying to buy a Congressional seat.”
Meanwhile, Trone was running a saturation TV ad campaign on Washington, D.C., broadcast stations—spending $1.6 million on TV ads during the first two weeks of October alone, according to FEC filing.
A 30-spot added to the TV blitz during the closing days of the campaign went after Hoeber on policy issues ranging from chemical weapons to health insurance, while also highlighting a 2017 class action suit in which she was named as a defendant as a board member of the company being sued.
Hoeber, describing herself as “truly furious,” charged that the Trone ad “denigrates my service to this country.”
Apart from the often bitter sniping, the contest offered offered voters a clear choice between two candidates who differed sharply on most major domestic and foreign policy issues.
For much of the general election campaign, Hoeber sought to tie herself to popular Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, while keeping her distance from President Donald Trump—who, although popular in some of the western rural parts of the district, posed a political problem for Hoeber in the Montgomery County portion of the county.
While backing many of his policies—ranging from his tax cut legislation to tearing up the Iran nuclear agreement reached under President Barack Obama—Hoeber was critical of the president’s personal style. “I would not invite him home for dinner, but that isn’t what I hired him for,” she said during a candidate forum in late October. “I voted for him, and stand behind the results that he’s gotten.” But she also vowed to put the “district ahead of party.”
In contrast, Trone was sharply critical of Trump for not only his style but virtually all of his policies—condemning the 2017 tax cut proposed by Trump and passed by the Republican-controlled Congress as “despicable” move that benefited large corporations at the expense of the middle class.
“I benefited,” the co-owner of the country’s largest independent retailer of alcohol beverages acknowledged during the same candidate forum. “But at the end of the day, it wasn’t the right move for America.”