Maryland’s Monied Primaries

I know money in politics isn’t a new thing, but Maryland’s May 14 primary is shaping up to be an embarrassment of riches, and not in a good way.

Let’s start with the race to replace retiring Senator Ben Cardin. If Democrats have any hope of maintaining control of the Senate, they need to hold onto this seat. Normally this wouldn’t be a heavy lift, as Maryland has twice as many Democrats as Republicans, and the state hasn’t elected a Republican senator in over forty years. But the Republican nominee will likely be former governor Larry Hogan, who has a war chest at his disposal and leads early polls against top Democrats Angela Alsobrooks and David Trone, who are locked in a pricey primary.

Alsobrooks, the Prince George’s County executive, has raised an impressive $7.8 million, but that’s peanuts compared to Congressman Trone. Already the largest self-funder in House history, Trone is now second in Senate history, having dropped a mind-boggling $54 million of his own money this time around.

In his pitch to voters, Trone, co-owner of the multibillion-dollar retailer Total Wine & More, highlights his wealth. “I have the resources to beat Larry Hogan,” he said at an April debate. Trone added that he’ll do better in whiter parts of the state than Alsobrooks, who’s Black. “I have the persona to win across the state, to win the Eastern Shore, to win in Southern Maryland [and] to win big in Western Maryland,” Trone said. In short, Trone’s pitch is: to beat a rich white guy like Hogan, you need an even richer white guy like me. And polls seem to bear Trone out, as he fares better than Alsobrooks in hypothetical matchups against Hogan; while also besting Alsobrooks in head-to-head polls.

Whether Trone or Alsobrooks, come November Democrats will have a tough but winnable race on their hands. Winnable because for the first time Hogan will be sharing a ballot with Trump, who’s deeply unpopular in Maryland.

As governor, Hogan took advantage of Trump’s low standing – among Marylanders and reporters – by periodically criticizing the then-president. Liberal national TV hosts were barely able to contain themselves, heaping praise on Hogan for his supposed courage and truth telling. But now that Hogan faces a real cost for criticizing Trump, his ballot-mate, he’s feeling less courageous. “Perhaps the nation’s most vocal anti-Trump Republican governor while in office, Hogan barely mentions Trump’s name unless asked about him,” the AP reports, adding: “He’s just as eager to ignore abortion, even though Maryland is among the states that will vote on an abortion referendum this fall.”

In addition to Trump, Hogan will also be sharing a ballot with abortion, an issue that’s proven politically disastrous for Republicans ever since the right-wing Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade two years ago.

A Hogan win would ensure Republican control of the Senate, aligning that body with both a Supreme Court that overturned Roe, and a potential President Trump. When it comes to abortion, Hogan isn’t only guilty by association; as governor he vetoed a bill to expand abortion access.

Maryland’s Feudal 6th Congressional District

With Trone running for Senate, Maryland’s 6th Congressional District seat is back on the market, only this time around it’s likely to sell for less than the $18 million Trone paid for it in 2018. Remarkably, the likely next buyer hails from the same family that handed the seat over to Trone six years ago.

John Delaney, whose estimated net worth is over $90 million, represented the 6th Congressional District from 2012 to 2018.[1] Now his wife, April McClain Delaney, a former Biden administration official, is looking to buy back the family seat. Of the nearly $2 million she’s raised, over $1 million is from a personal loan to her campaign.

Interestingly, the Delaneys don’t actually live in the 6th District. Nor for that matter does Trone. This means that for over a decade the 6th District hasn’t had a congressman who lives within its borders. While allowed – congressmembers have to live in the state they represent, not the district – the arrangement feels a bit feudal in this case, as the Delaneys and Trone live near each other in posh Potomac, on the outskirts of DC, while the badly gerrymandered 6th District extends all the way out to West Virginia.

In addition to Delaney, the crowded Democratic field includes, among others, state Delegates Joe Vogel (the “leading rival”) and Lesley Lopez, Hagerstown Mayor Tekesha Martinez, Montgomery County Councilmember Laurie-Anne Sayles, and former Obama administration official Ashwani Jain. Among the Republican candidates are former state Delegates Neal Parrott, Brenda Thiam and Dan Cox, who was the 2022 GOP gubernatorial nominee, as well as former Navy officer Tom Royals, who the Washington Post endorsed (along with Delaney).

In November, the primary winners will face off in the state’s only competitive House race.

Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District – AIPAC Strikes Again

Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District is being flooded with money, much of it from an outside special interest. This must come as a cruel irony to retiring Congressman John Sarbanes, who’s led the fight against money in politics over the course of his 18 years in office. But now Sarbanes must watch on as a right-wing group – the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC – spends millions to ensure Sarbanes’ seat goes to its favored candidate, state Senator Sarah Elfreth.

Why AIPAC is involving itself in this race is a bit of a mystery, as Elfreth’s support for Israel seems indistinguishable from her chief rival, Harry Dunn.

A former U.S. Capitol Police officer, Dunn fought off January 6 insurrectionists and won national acclaim, which he’s tapped into to raise a staggering nearly $4.6 million for his run. Among the crowded field of 22 Democratic candidates, Elfreth comes in a distant second in fundraising, with around $1.5 million.[2] But that yawning gap has disappeared thanks to AIPAC – more specifically its affiliated super PAC, the United Democracy Project – which spent nearly $3.3 million in April backing Elfreth. If not for AIPAC’s millions, Harry Dunn would likely be the clear frontrunner (even if he also lives outside the district).

“Congressman John Sarbanes spent his career trying to get dark money out of politics, now those same dark money groups are trying to buy this seat,” Dunn said in a statement, which highlighted how AIPAC’s UDP “is funded by Republican mega-donors who have given millions of dollars to the worst MAGA extremists, including Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Lauren Boebert.”

Dunn’s rebuke seemed to knock AIPAC on its heels. Normally the pugnacious group hits back when criticized, but this time it did nothing of the sort, with a UDP spokesman merely saying, “we appreciate Harry Dunn’s support for a strong US-Israel relationship.”

The spokesman, Patrick Dorton, claimed UDP was intervening in the race because of Elfreth’s “leadership” on domestic matters (abortion rights, climate change and domestic violence), carefully omitting any mention of UDP’s foremost issue, Israel. The other reason Dorton gave for UDP’s meddling was equally unconvincing. “There [are] some serious anti-Israel candidates in this race, who are not Harry Dunn, and we need to make sure that they don’t make it to Congress,” he said.

So, who’s on this naughty list? UDP hasn’t said, but the most likely candidate is John Morse, a Bernie Sanders-backed labor lawyer who’s openly criticized Israel’s war on Gaza. After the February 29 Flour Massacre, in which Israeli forces killed over a hundred Palestinians waiting for flour, Morse said, “We need the murder and starvation of innocent people to stop now.” Of course, Morse’s position is anti-genocide, not anti-Israel, but AIPAC has trouble making the distinction.

Regardless, Morse isn’t going to win. In the three polls I’m aware of, Morse’s best showing is 3%, and he trails badly in fundraising, having brought in around $120,000. I’m reciting these numbers not to knock Morse, but to point out there’s no “anti-Israel” candidate with a chance of winning, so UDP’s justification for its meddling is dubious. By spending over $100,000 a day to boost Sarah Elfreth, all UDP is doing is thwarting Harry Dunn, even though he’s pro-Israel.

What’s really going on here? I wish I knew. That we have to try to decipher why an outside group is taking over a local congressional race highlights how broken our political system is. Congressman Sarbanes was right to devote his career to this issue. And Dunn is right to make it a central plank of his candidacy – even if doing so may have triggered AIPAC’s intervention, as Dunn believes. “Right after I announced my plan to protect our democracy from outside special interests who try to influence elections, dark money was solicited into this race,” Dunn told HuffPost.

But AIPAC may have had another reason for intervening. Four months before announcing her candidacy, Elfreth visited Israel for the first time on what sounds an awful lot like an AIPAC junket. Joined by fellow state legislators from around the U.S., Elfreth visited “a kibbutz that was [later] attacked by Hamas on Oct. 7, an Iron Dome battery, a Hezbollah tunnel on the Lebanese border, the West Bank and religious sites,” Jewish Insider reported. Afterward, Elfreth called her trip “incredibly sobering” and “life-changing.” So, while Elfreth’s and Dunn’s positions on Israel seem indistinguishable, Elfreth appears to be more of a known entity to AIPAC.

To be clear, Elfreth has lots going for her. At 30, she became the youngest woman elected to the Maryland state Senate in 2018. And she has the backing of firefighters and teachers unions, among others. But it’s AIPAC’s millions that are likely to put her over the top, and she’s keen to keep the gusher flowing. At an April debate, Maryland Matters reported, “moderators asked the candidates if they would swear off corporate PAC money. Only Elfreth stayed seated.”

She was smart to do so, as AIPAC’s millions can prove decisive. They certainly did next door, in Maryland’s 4th Congressional District.

AIPAC’s 4th Congressional District

In 2022, Donna Edwards was poised to reclaim the House seat she’d vacated six years earlier when she ran for Senate (unsuccessfully). Edwards was ahead in the Democratic primary – which is the election that matters in Maryland’s deep blue 4th Congressional District, anchored in Prince George’s County – and she had the backing of the Democratic establishment, with endorsements from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, unions and more.

“A candidate with the name recognition and broad support that Edwards pulled together should have been unbeatable. Then the ads started pouring in,” The Intercept reported. With the election just a month away,

“[AIPAC] spearheaded an unprecedented onslaught of outside spending in Maryland’s 4th Congressional District. Their super PAC, the United Democracy Project, spent $6 million on television spots, mailers, and other media knocking Edwards over thinly sourced claims about constituent services… Other pro-Israel organizations pitched in about $1 million more. The result was one of the most expensive congressional primaries in history, with nearly all of the money coming from outside the district over the course of only a few weeks.”

Amid the $7 million onslaught, Edwards’ lead vanished and she lost the primary by nearly 17 pointsto prosecutor Glenn Ivey, who was quick to thank AIPAC after his win. (Ivey is expected to cruise to reelection this year.)

What did Donna Edwards do to earn AIPAC’s ire? During her tenure in Congress she “expressed support for Palestinian rights and the resumption of a meaningful peace process,” while refusing to support unconditional funding for Israel, the Intercept reported.

Notably, AIPAC’s attack ads didn’t mention Edwards’ position on Israel-Palestine – maybe because her balanced approach resonated with Prince Georgians.


At the top of the ticket, activists are demanding President Biden adopt a Donna Edwards-like approach to Israel-Palestine.

Following similar efforts in states like Michigan and Wisconsin, the Listen to Maryland coalition is calling on Maryland Democrats to vote “uncommitted” in the presidential primary. “By selecting ‘uncommitted’ on the ballot, we are protesting to inform President Biden that we do not support his funding of war and genocide,” Hena Zuberi, a leader of the coalition, told Baltimore Beat. Groups supporting the effort include Jewish Voice for Peace’s political arm and chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America, among others.

Maryland’s primary is May 14. Early voting runs May 2 through May 9.


[1] Instead of seeking reelection in 2018, Delaney launched an early, longshot bid for president ahead of the 2020 election. The Times called his run “one of the longest presidential campaigns in American history”; it was also one of the less successful, with Delaney dropping out three days before the Iowa caucuses. Delaney’s most memorable moment came during a debate in which he attacked Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren for being too progressive, prompting Warren’s memorable retort, “I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for.”

[2] Clarence Lam is third in fundraising ($736,000) and polls. In addition to being an impressive state Senator, he’s also a medical doctor.

Pete Tucker is a journalist based in DC. He writes at