Saying that he had been thinking about running for Congress since he was in his 20s, David Trone, the 60-year old co-owner of Bethesda-based Total Wine & More, is jumping into the race for the Democratic nomination in the 8th Congressional District—and is planning to use his considerable wealth to self-fund his campaign.
“There is no question that I am the underdog, certainly a big underdog,” Trone said in an interview Wednesday afternoon, adding, “Typically, people like to stay with what they already know. Often, people don’t like change. As a businessperson, I love change.”
However, Trone will enter the contest—in which seven other Democrats have been running, some for almost a year—with a big advantage: the ability to dig into his own pocket to finance his campaign in a race in which many insiders say it could cost upwards of $3 million to win the nomination.
“Having seen the terrible problem of lobbyists, corporations and donors blocking change that is good for Americans, I have decided I am not going to take any money from corporations, lobbyists and [political action committees],” said Trone, adding he would accept individual donations of no more than $10 per person.
“I won’t be anyone’s representative but theirs,” he said, alluding to rank-and-file voters.
Trone, who lives in Potomac, described himself as a “strong Democrat” who, like other candidates in the race, backs abortion rights and favors moves to restrict firearms sales, including more extensive background checks. He also said he would emphasize reform of the nation’s tax code. “The tax code needs to be reworked so it’s fair to working families. People like me need to pay high taxes, should pay higher taxes—and that’s a good thing,” he declared.
Trone vowed not to run any negative campaign ads or launch attacks on his opponents. “I think voters are just tired of all the negativity,” he said.
He repeatedly sought to highlight his business background as differentiating him from other Democrats seeking the District 8 nomination. “There are a number of people in this race who have been in public office over a decade. They’ve been campaigning a long time. I’ve been building a business, creating jobs,” said Trone, who, with his brother Robert, has built Total Wine & More into the country’s largest privately owned retailer of beer, wine and spirits.
“I’ve got to spend money to get my name out,” added Trone of his decision to self-fund his effort. Asked how much he is prepared to spend, Trone replied, “I’m going to spend whatever it takes,” while adding with a chuckle, “And I will also say that will definitely be too much.”
Trone is kicking off his campaign just a week before the filing deadline, and with just three months until the April 26 primary. He said his late entry into the race was related to his company, which has more than 110 stores nationwide, bringing in a new chief executive officer effective Jan. 1. “We have reached the point now, with a new CEO, that I can devote myself to public service and try and make a difference,” said Trone, who has been a major Democratic Party donor for almost two decades.
He joins a Democratic race in which state Sen. Jamie Raskin of Takoma Park and former Marriott International executive Kathleen Matthews of Chevy Chase are regarded as the frontrunners. Trone’s entry could be a setback for Matthews, given their business backgrounds. And Matthews, who has been the leading fundraiser in the contest, could now be outmatched by Trone in spending for TV ads in the expensive Washington market.
Others, however, suggested that Matthews could benefit from another male candidate in the contest, further fragmenting a field that also includes Dels. Kumar Barve of Rockville and Ana Sol Gutierrez of Chevy Chase, former Obama administration officials Will Jawando of Silver Spring and Joel Rubin of Chevy Chase, and David Anderson of Potomac, who administers a Washington-based internship and seminar program. The seat is being vacated by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who is running for U.S. Senate.
Trone will officially kick off his campaign Thursday with a series of media interviews, and then make visits to Frederick and Carroll counties, portions of which are included in the 8th District. The district is considered overwhelmingly Democratic, and the winner of the April 26 Democratic primary is likely to be sworn into Congress in January 2017.
The prospects of Republicans mounting a competitive challenge for the seat in November took a further hit Wednesday, when James Calderwood of Chevy Chase, an attorney who currently chairs the Maryland Transportation Commission, said he would not run. Calderwood had been mulling the race since last summer. “I came to the conclusion that it is not the right time for me now,” said Calderwood, who declined to go into detail about the factor that prompted him to pass on the contest.
However, several observers have noted that, with Democratic voter turnout in Maryland likely to be boosted this fall by the presidential race, the odds of a Republican winning District 8—while always uphill—are particularly steep this year. Calderwood joins Bill Day of Bethesda, a Rockville-based attorney, in bowing out of a run for the Republican nomination. Both had been seen in local GOP circles as having the capability to mount a potentially competitive challenge to the Democratic nominee.co
In an unusual twist, Elizabeth Matory, a former Democrat who had been running for the District 8 seat as an independent candidate, Wednesday dropped her independent affiliation and filed to run in the Republican primary. Matory, who lost a bid for the Democratic nomination for state delegate from District 18 two years ago, characterized herself a “post-partisan” candidate when she joined the Democratic congressional candidates on stage on an environmental group forum in Silver Spring last fall.
Matory, who is African-American, also caused a minor stir at that event when she referred to Matthews as “a millionaire white woman” while telling Matthews, “I also heard you’re having difficulty with quote-unquote ethnic support.”
Previously filed for the Republican nomination is Shelly Skolnick of Silver Spring, who has run several losing races in recent years—including a bid for Montgomery County Council in 2014. Aryeh Shudofsky of Silver Spring, a former congressional aide, also has indicated he plans to run for the GOP nod.
The Republican candidates for the District 8 nomination are scheduled to debate next Thursday, Feb. 4, a day after the filing deadline. Meanwhile, at least four debates among the Democrats have been scheduled for February. Trone said Wednesday that he was “absolutely excited and looking forward” to joining the forthcoming Democratic District 8 debates.