How Wine Mogul David Trone Crashed and Burned His Senate Bid

David Trone wagging his finger at Fox 5’s Tom Fitzgerald.

In the closing weeks of Maryland’s Democratic Senate primary, wine mogul David Trone was lighting both his money and campaign on fire. The race came down to which he’d burn through first.

As his early lead gave way in the homestretch before the May 14 election, Trone’s desperation began to show. In a May 1 interview with NBC 4, Trone accused his opponent, Angela Alsobrooks, of needing “training wheels” to serve in the Senate.

That was rich coming from Trone, who paid over $17 million in 2018 to buy a seat in Congress, which he’ll keep until January. Before that, Trone ran for Congress in the neighboring district in 2016, and lost despite spending over $13 million.

While Trone was shelling out tens of millions of dollars to buy his House seat, Alsobrooks was serving as county executive of Prince George’s County, and before that as the county’s elected state’s attorney for eight years.

Trone’s training wheels comment was insulting not just to Alsobrooks, but also to Prince George’s, the state’s second largest county, with nearly a million residents. Why would the two-term executive of this majority-Black county need training wheels?

But the most head-scratching aspect of Trone’s comment is that he made it despite knowing that it was likely to blow up in his face, because it already had.

In a Trone campaign ad, one of his surrogates said about Alsobrooks, “The U.S. Senate is not a place for training wheels.” The ad prompted fierce backlash, first among officials in Prince George’s, then nationwide from over 650 Black female leaders. In a public letter, the Black women — including former HUD secretary Marcia Fudge and former DNC chairwoman Donna Brazile — wrote, the ad “is not only disparaging and dismissive but also echoes tones of misogyny and racism.”

In the face of this widespread criticism, Trone’s campaign quickly edited the ad, removing the “training wheels” reference. Nevertheless, Trone doubled down on the comment, this time personally saying, “This job is not for someone on training wheels.”

In the same NBC 4 interview, Trone managed to further self-immolate. Needing to siphon away some of Alsobrooks’ Black support to win, Trone insisted that he had more support among Prince George’s officials than his opponent. When NBC 4’s Tracee Wilkins corrected him, Trone put his foot in his mouth once again, this time by dismissing Alsobrooks’ Prince George’s endorsers as “the low-level folks.”

In short order, nearly two dozen of “the low-level folks” – who include some of Prince George’s highest officials, like County Council President Jolene Ivey – blasted Trone at a press conference.

Naturally, Trone claimed Prince George’s “top-level folks” were for him. Left unsaid was how much Trone had donated to them.

Topping the list is Anthony Brown, Maryland’s Attorney General. Over the past weeks (maybe months), I couldn’t turn on the TV without Brown popping up to earnestly tell me about his buddy David Trone. It sure seemed like Brown believed what he was saying, but it’s worth noting that over the years his campaigns (and a supportive super PAC) have received over $500,000 from the Trone family and its company.

That company is Total Wine and More, which Trone and his brother Robert built into a multibillion dollar behemoth — the American Prospect called it “the Amazon of liquor retail.” Now the country’s largest alcohol distributor, Total Wine’s business practices have long raised concerns, as have Trone’s, even as a sitting member of Congress. In December 2021, as deliverymen unloaded merchandise onto the floor of a Total Wine store in Tempe, Arizona, Trone exploded, threatening to “execute” and “fucking end” one worker, according to a police report The Spectator got a hold of.

Trone has tapped his growing liquor fortune to fund his campaigns, including his Senate bid, in which he spent over $60 million, smashing the Senate primary record. “Trone spent more money courting Maryland’s 2.2 million Democrats since 2023 than the Biden for President campaign had spent on advertising nationwide,” the Washington Post reported.

But no matter how many ads Trone aired, he couldn’t persuade African Americans – who make up one-third of all Maryland voters, and 43 percent of the state’s Democratic voters – that he was a better candidate than Alsobrooks.

Still, Trone kept trying. With Alsobrooks being a former state’s attorney, and African Americans bearing the brunt of the justice system, Trone sensed an opening. On May 5 he tweeted, “Our criminal justice system is systemically racist.”

Unsurprisingly, Trone’s tweet piqued the interest of the local Fox affiliate. But when Fox 5 reporter Tom Fitzgerald tried to question Trone, the congressman blew up on camera, a week before the election. Talk about needing training wheels.

The gaffes kept coming right through election day. Trone related well to Black voters, he told NBC, because he “didn’t even have indoor plumbing” growing up and was raised “in a family that was destroyed by alcoholism.”

Seven Black Maryland officials quickly responded, saying, “To diminish the Black experience in Maryland to ‘growing up without indoor plumbing’ and having your family ‘destroyed by alcoholism’ is yet another example of David Trone being deeply out of touch with Black culture and Black Americans.”

Trone was unraveling before our eyes. My hunch, and it’s just a hunch, is that Trone was coming undone because his internal polls showed him what external polls didn’t show us: that Trone was going to lose the Black vote overwhelmingly, and the election decisively.

As Trone was flailing, Alsobrooks was ascendant. While she was outspent nearly 10 to 1, Alsobrooks still raised over $7.5 million, and she got a late boost from Emily’s List’s super PAC, which ran TV ads and spent over $2.5 million in the final days of the race. And despite her campaign’s early missteps, Alsobrooks kept the state’s Democratic establishment firmly behind her, with key endorsements from, among others, Governor Wes Moore and the Post.

The latter helped Alsobrooks in Montgomery County, which is lousy with Post readers. While Trone aimed to chip away at Alsobrooks’ Prince George’s base, the reverse happened, with Alsobrooks notching a stunning 2 point win over Trone in his own backyard of Montgomery County. Meanwhile next door in Prince George’s, Alsobrooks ran up the score, beating Trone by a whopping 45 points.

Overall, Alsobrooks won by nearly 10 points over Trone, who couldn’t bring himself to say her name in his concession speech.

For Alsobrooks, it’s now on to the general election, where she faces former governor Larry Hogan, in a race that may determine control of the Senate.

While Hogan has proven to be a political juggernaut, for the first time he’ll be sharing a ballot with Donald Trump, as well as an abortion referendum – a nightmare scenario for a Republican in a deep blue state.

On November 5, Alsobrooks has a good shot at making history by becoming Maryland’s first Black senator and just the third Black woman elected to the Senate (an honor she may share with Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, who’s well positioned to win Delaware’s open Senate seat).

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