Reflecting on his second-place finish in this week’s Democratic primary for the District 8 congressional seat, Total Wine & More co-owner David Trone of Potomac said late Wednesday that he plans to pursue other opportunities for public service—although he said he remains uncertain of precisely what he will do next.
“I’d like to continue to look for ways to serve the public,” Trone said in a telephone interview less than 24 hours after falling short to state Sen. Jamie Raskin of Takoma Park in the nine-way Democratic primary race. “Where exactly we don’t know at this particular point in time, but that’s definitely something we’ll look at as we go forward.”
Trone did acknowledge an interest in a possible presidential appointment if Hillary Rodham Clinton, for whom he has raised funds in the past, is the next occupant of the White House. “That would be something we would definitely have an interest in,” Trone said. “I’ve been a big supporter for years, and we’re hopeful that Hillary is going to prevail.”
And, while sidestepping a question about another congressional race, he did not flatly rule out a future run in neighboring District 6—where there is widespread speculation that Rep. John Delaney, if re-elected this fall, will opt to run for governor in 2018.
“We really haven’t thought that far ahead,” Trone responded when asked about such a scenario. “At this point, that’s too premature to even think about.”
But, following his first run for elective office, Trone seemed to welcome the opportunity to get back on the hustings. “I really enjoyed the experience,” he said. “I got to talk to thousands of people at meet and greets and Metro stations all over the district. Talking to the people was really what I enjoyed the most, to hear about what their concerns are.”
One point on which Trone was firm is that he will not return to the day-to-day management of Total Wine & More, the Bethesda-based company that Trone, over the past three decades, has built into the nation’s largest privately owned retailer of alcoholic beverages.
Trone said he will remain on Total Wine & More’s board of directors, while adding, “My brother [Robert] and I will continue to own the company, but I definitely will not be running the company, and I will continue to look for opportunities in public service.”
Trone noted a new chief executive officer, Kevin Peters, had been brought in to run the company before Trone announced his candidacy for Congress in late January, and that Peters would remain in that role.
Reflecting on his candidacy, Trone said he “perhaps” should have announced his candidacy earlier than the week prior to the filing deadline, barely three months before Tuesday’s primary. “Twelve weeks wasn’t a very significant period of time to directly speak with the voters,” Trone said. “Having a greater period would probably have been beneficial in hindsight.”
While recent filings with the Federal Election Commission show Trone made significant campaign-related expenditures going back to August 2015, he said he did not reach a final decision about running until just before he announced.
“We did a lot of research and work in looking ahead and deciding if this made sense,” Trone said. “We were testing the waters and we didn’t make the decision until late January to actually pull the plug and actually move forward.”
He attributed the deliberate pace of decision-making to his business background, which he repeatedly touted as an asset during the campaign. “I guess, as a business guy, I probably do more due diligence than a typical political guy, who doesn’t really have the resources to think about things as deeply and look at all the different points of view,” he said.
But Trone offered no second thoughts about what was perhaps the most visible—and controversial—aspect of his candidacy: the $12.75 million in personal assets that he poured into the campaign, a national record for a self-funded House candidate.
“We have no regrets whatsoever in spending the dollars that we spent. This is an expensive media market,” said Trone, who ran nearly nonstop TV ads in the Washington media market throughout his three-month campaign, and later expanded to the Baltimore TV market, to reach 8th District voters residing in Carroll and Frederick counties.
Referring to his chief rivals, Raskin and former Marriott International executive Kathleen Matthews of Chevy Chase, Trone added: “We were also competing with two other candidates who are both multimillionaires and also both raised millions of dollars each…It was a very expensive and competitive race.”
A full accounting of what was spent in the closing weeks of the campaign won’t be available until the next round of disclosure reports are filed with the Federal Election Commission in mid-July. FEC reports covering the period through the first week of April show the Matthews campaign taking in $2.58 million, including a $500,000 loan from the candidate herself; these figures do not include an additional nearly $300,000 spent by a Super PAC affiliated with EMILY’s List for a direct mail effort on Matthews’ behalf. Raskin’s latest report shows him raising about $1.86 million, with only $2,700 of that coming from the candidate himself.
Trone acknowledged reform of the campaign finance system is needed. “Campaigns are too expensive,” he said. “We need public financing at some point in time, for sure.”
He noted that “probably 82 cents of every dollar” he spent on broadcast TV advertising was viewed by individuals who don’t live in the 8th District. “The gerrymandering is the problem that has caused these huge media expenditures,” Trone said. The 8th District extends from the Washington, D.C., line to the Pennsylvania border as part of a 2011 congressional redistricting plan approved by the Maryland General Assembly. During the campaign, Trone hit Raskin for voting for that plan, decried by critics as gerrymandering.
Unofficial returns from early voting and Primary Day put Raskin at 33.7 percent to 27.3 percent for Trone, a margin of nearly 7,400 votes; Matthews was third with 23.8 percent. Counting of absentee ballots starts Thursday, with a second round scheduled for a week from Friday. Trone, whose campaign conducted an aggressive effort to encourage absentee ballot voting, predicted that once the absentees are counted, “it looks like we’re probably going to end up just a couple of thousand votes short, which is an amazing feat in 12 weeks.”
But, acknowledging he had fallen short this time, Trone called Raskin Tuesday night to offer congratulations, telling the nominee that “we’d absolutely be pulling for him in the fall and that we need a Democrat to represent the 8th District.”
Does Trone still believe what he said during the campaign, when he charged that “Jamie will be a polarizing figure from the left, and I honestly don’t think he can work with the middle”?
The aspiring public servant showed the skills of a veteran politician in responding. “I’d rather not comment on that one,” Trone said with a chuckle. “There’s nothing good that’s going to come out of commenting on that.”