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Inside the push to reshape the gender politics of Maryland’s representatives

By Michael Jones

A few weeks ago, I called one of the most dedicated volunteers on Angela Alsobrooks’ campaign for a morning vibe check on the odds the Prince George’s County executive would triumph in the Maryland Democratic primary to succeed the retiring Sen. Ben Cardin.

The polls had Alsobrooks’ opponent, Rep. David Trone, a three-term congressman and owner of the Total Wine & More alcohol retailer, leading into Election Day. He self-financed his campaign with $62 million, a fortune he relied on to outspend Alsobrooks by a 10-to-1 margin as he flooded the airwaves with TV ads. The race turned sour late last month when Trone disparaged Alsobrooks’ experience. Trone also used a racial slur during a congressional hearing earlier this spring, for which he apologized. Meanwhile, Alsobrooks stuck to issues like economic opportunity, community safety, and health care.

“Trone had the money, but he outsourced his ground game. Angela inspired people to get involved in the race despite not having the resources,” the volunteer told me during our chat. “When he went negative, it changed the dynamic because by then, people were paying attention and turned off by the personal attacks.”

The final tally confirms this analysis: Alsobrooks won by almost 11 points and earned over 70,000 more votes than Trone.

The decisive win sets up a face-off against former Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in the November general election, whom the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm has already branded as a rubber stamp for former President Donald Trump’s agenda handpicked by outgoing GOP leader Mitch McConnell.

To be clear, Hogan is no slouch. But Democrats have held the seat since 1980. And if that trend holds, Alsobrooks’ would make history as the first Black US senator in Maryland history, the first woman to represent the state since Barbara Mikulski retired in 2017 and the third Black woman ever elected to the Senate after Carolyn Moseley Braun and Kamala Harris. With Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester as the frontrunner to replace Tom Carper in the Senate for Delaware, it would be the first time two Black women served together and reflect matching tips of a spear that pierces deeper into the Senate’s status as an institution reserved for withered and wealthy white men.

For members like Rep. Steny Hoyer, the dean of the Maryland congressional delegation and former longtime number-two House Democrat, this level of representation is vital for a government that promises to be of, by, and for the people.

“First of all, she’s a very good and decent person,” Hoyer told me of Alsobrooks, whom he supported over Trone early in the primary campaign. “She’s lived life’s experiences. She’s empathetic. She understands the fears, the aspirations, the joys of working men and women in this country, and as a result, I think they responded to her.”

Sen. Laphonza Butler, the only Black woman currently serving in the Senate, told me Alsobrooks she spoke to Alsobrooks after her primary win. Butler added that Alsobrooks was one of the first endorsements EMILYs List—the pro-women and pro-abortion rights advocacy group she led before Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom of California appointed her to fill the seat left vacant after Sen. Dianne Feinstein died last year—made for the 2024 cycle.

“Maryland is one of the most diverse states geographically that you could run an election in,” Butler, a Maryland resident when Newsom appointed her, said. “I think what she has as far as a superpower is the coalition and the people on the ground to actually bring it through and the messaging to make sure that Marylanders understand who is standing with them and their values in this moment to fight for the kinds of freedoms that Maryland stands for.”

Butler, who re-registered to vote in California before she took office and announced after she was sworn in that she wouldn’t seek election to a full Senate term this year, told me earlier this month she was thrilled at the prospect of passing the baton to not one, but two Black women senators.

“I’m holding the door open not only for her but also soon-to-be Sen. Lisa Blunt Rochester from Delaware,” she added. “I believe that the voters in Maryland and in Delaware are ready to have two Black women in the United States Senate at the same time.”

If Alsobrooks and Blunt Rochester are successful, they could join Tammy Baldwin, who’s facing an aggressive challenger in her re-election bid, in the upper chamber.

“I think we are better governed when our legislative bodies look like the constituencies they represent, look like America, to bring all perspectives to the decision-making table,” Baldwin, who made history of her own when she became the first woman from Wisconsin and first openly LGBTQ woman elected to the Senate in 2012, told me. “There’s an old expression that if you’re not in the room, the conversation’s about you. But if you’re in the room, the conversation’s with you.”

It’s not just the Senate where Maryland seeks to reshape congressional gender politics.

April Delaney, a former Biden administration official, prevailed over state House delegate Joe Vogel in the primary to replace Trone in the state’s 6th congressional district. (Trone has since endorsed Alsobrooks for Senate.) And Sarah Elfreth, an AIPAC-backed state senator defeated former US Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn in the contest to replace retiring Rep. John Sarbanes in the 3rd congressional district. 

If Alsobrooks, Delaney, and Elfreth win their general elections, the percentage of women in Maryland’s congressional delegation will surge from zero to 30 percent. (Cook Political Report rates the Trone seat is rated D+2 and Biden won the district by 23 points in 2020. Sarbanes’ district is rated D+10; Biden won it by 30 points in 2020. Cook rates the Senate race as Likely Democratic; the president won the state by more than 33 points in 2020.) 

“It’s wonderful,” Hoyer told me of the trio of women candidates. “I said all along from the very beginning: In order to have a complete delegation, you’ve got to have people who represent all the people.”

But ultimately, these elections, like the most that will determine the balance of power in Washington in 2025 and beyond, will be decided by the issues—including abortion, where Hogan is looking to run to the left of the Republican Party in hopes of assembling a coalition that can defeat Alsobrooks.

Sen. Butler said the country has seen GOP extremists attempt to moderate their positions on reproductive freedom since the Dobbs decision was leaked in May 2022.

“Governor Hogan is very similar. He is now going to try to convince Marylanders that he is going to stand and support them,” Butler told me. “He will be in this group, in this body, who will vote for a national abortion ban if [Republicans] have a majority—Maryland can take that to the bank. And the best way to make sure that doesn’t happen is to not send him here at all.”

Michael Jones is an independent Capitol Hill correspondent and contributor for COURIER. He is the author of Once Upon a Hill, a newsletter about Congressional politics.

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