A Political Tactic I’ve Never Seen Before

I’ve spent more than three decades watching campaigns for Congress, but I never encountered a situation like the one I experienced last week, when I attended what amounted to a campaign event in my neighborhood’s clubhouse.

Maryland Democrat David Trone, who is running for Congress in the 6th Congressional District, came to my Potomac community to talk about his candidacy – and he brought plenty of wine for residents to sample while they chatted with neighbors before turning their attention to the candidate.

Trone, who owns Total Wine & More, a large beer, wine and spirits national retail chain, spent over $13 million of his own money during his unsuccessful primary run for Congress in Maryland’s 8th District. Now, he is again running for the House, this time in the neighboring 6th, which is being left open by retiring Democrat John Delaney.

What made all the politicking odd is that my community is not in the 6th District but rather in the 8th, currently represented by Democrat Jamie Raskin, who beat Trone in the Democratic primary last year. In other words, Trone touted his credentials, talked about his views and supplied wine to a roomful of people who could not vote for him next year.

Before Trone spoke, I asked a young campaign staffer whether he was sure the community was in the 6th C.D. After saying he certainly thought it was, his expression changed from confidence to hesitation.

Trone’s mistake is understandable, of course. In the last round of redistricting, Maryland Democrats chopped up a Republican district in the northwest part of the state, diluting the Republican vote by distributing it among two districts (the 6th and the 8th) dominated by the D.C. suburbs.

Potomac was split. While part of that suburb was placed in the western district (the 6th), which includes North Potomac, Gaithersburg and Poolesville, my neighborhood ended up in the 8th, which encompasses cities and towns further east (Bethesda, Rockville, Silver Spring and Wheaton).

Still, it’s relatively rare that a candidate for Congress spends his time campaigning for votes among voters who live outside his district – to say nothing about supplying attendees with free wine. (I’m not opposed to other candidates from around the country underwriting my neighborhood’s wine parties, though I do wonder about the ethics of it.)

Anyway, during the Q-and-A period after Trone’s speech, I asked two questions.

First, did the candidate think that Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers and Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken should resign form Congress?

“Yes,” Trone shot back enthusiastically. No hesitation. No obfuscation. No mealy-mouthed response to avoid alienating anyone. It was as refreshing as it was unequivocal. Of course, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had already called for Conyers’ resignation, so Trone was not really breaking from the party. (Earlier today, Conyers announced he will resign from the House.)

The second question involved my doubts that he is suited to being a lowly freshman who would have little influence. I noted his self-funding and his previous race, as well as the fact that he had flirted with running for county executive before deciding on a second race for Congress. I also noted that his earlier comments about leadership, about the county government and about his experiences in the private sector suggested he would be more effective in an executive position.

Trone seemed to dislike the question. He turned away from me and addressed others in the audience, insisting that his wealth was an asset not a liability, emphasizing that he would be politically independent, and promising that he could bring change. He was passionate, certainly, but he didn’t address my concerns about his temperament, district-shopping and suitability for a legislative office.

Trone took another question but suddenly had to run. He never stressed his Democratic label, instead embracing the “no labels” movement in response to a question and talking about his pro-business bent.

Oddly, that was not the only time I encountered Trone last week. Two days earlier, I saw him at a Suburban Hospital event in Bethesda. Trone and his wife received an award recognizing their family foundation’s $2.5 million gift to the hospital. He spoke briefly after receiving the award, giving what sounded a lot like a campaign speech.

Trone is one of a handful of Democrats who have already entered the June 2018 Democratic primary in Maryland’s 6th C.D. State Sen. Roger Manno and state Delegate Aruna Miler have also announced they are running.

On the GOP side, Amie Hoeber, who drew 40 percent of the vote against Delaney in the 2016 general election, is running again. But given Donald Trump’s performance in the White House and the Republican Party’s standing, it’s difficult to believe that Hoeber or any Republican will have much of a chance in this district next year.

So, the Democratic nomination will be hugely valuable. Trone’s previous run and his personal wealth automatically make him a serious contender. His odds will improve if he campaigns among voters who actually live in the district where he is running.