With Democrat David Trone out of the hospital following cancer-related surgery two weeks ago, the pace of the general election contest for the open congressional seat in District 6 is about to accelerate.
Trone is said to be resting at home, but is scheduled to make appearances at two private fundraising events later this week—one at his Potomac residence Thursday, the other at the home of supporters in Frederick County the following day.
Meanwhile, Trone has committed to appearing with his Republican opponent and fellow Potomac resident, Amie Hoeber, at back-to-back debates in late October, according to a campaign spokesman.
One will be held the evening of Oct. 23 at the Shaare Torah synagogue in Gaithersburg under the sponsorship of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington; the other takes place in Hagerstown the following morning, Oct. 24, under the auspices of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce.
Like Trone, Hoeber will be focused on seeking campaign contributions later this week: She is scheduled to appear Friday at an event in Anne Arundel County sponsored by Maryland Republican Party Chairman Dirk Haire, with Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh as a featured guest. This follows a fundraiser for Hoeber in Potomac in late July at which Gov. Larry Hogan was the guest of honor.
The Trone fundraiser on Thursday, billed as a “Congressional Women Reception,” features four Democratic female incumbents as guests: Reps. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, Debbie Dingell of Michigan, Lois Frankel of Florida and Barbara Lee of California.
Both District 6 candidates are also slated to be back on television in October after a hiatus during September. According to sources, Trone has reserved $1 million per week in ads on Washington, D.C.-based broadcast stations during the last three weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 general election. And Hoeber, who ran ads on cable TV throughout the 200-mile wide district in August, plans to resume cable advertising next month.
Hoeber, a national security consultant, and Trone, co-owner of the Total Wine & More national retail chain, are vying to succeed U.S. Rep. John Delaney, whom Hoeber unsuccessfully challenged in 2016. The 6th District, in which about half the voters are Montgomery County residents, extends from Potomac and Gaithersburg to the western edge of the Maryland panhandle in Garrett County. After three terms in Congress, Delaney is relinquishing the seat in a longshot bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Trone, who finished second to now-U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin two years ago for the Democratic nomination in neighboring District 8, spent $13.4 million of his personal fortune in that race—a national record for a self-funded congressional campaign. He spent $11.5 million from his own pocket to win an eight-way contest for the District 6 nomination in this year’s June 26 primary, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission (FEC); his projected TV spending in the fall campaign puts him on track to eclipse his own 2-year-old self-funding record.
Trone has been off the airwaves since late August, when he disclosed that he was being treated for a “localized cancer” after a tumor was discovered in his urinary tract. He underwent surgery for removal of one of his kidneys on Sept. 11.
Hoeber, in her latest FEC filing in mid-July, reported spending about $282,000 in easily defeating three little-known opponents in the June primary. She reported donating nearly $120,000 of her own assets to the campaign during the current election cycle.
Her candidacy is also being boosted by an independent expenditure “Super PAC” to which her husband, telecommunications executive Mark Epstein, has donated $400,000 this year—including $100,000 earlier this month. That group, the Value In Electing Women Political Action Committee (VIEWPAC), is devoted to promoting Republican women running for office. It has reported spending nearly $225,000 this year—$48,000 during the primary and the rest since—to aid Hoeber’s candidacy, primarily in digital advertising and direct mail.
During Hoeber’s 2016 bid against Delaney, Epstein contributed $3.8 million to another Super PAC, Maryland USA, that promoted Hoeber’s candidacy. Super PACs can accept unlimited amounts of money from individuals, corporations and labor unions, but are barred from coordinating their efforts with individual candidate campaign committees. Under federal law, Epstein is limited to a maximum donation of $5,400—$2,700 for each the primary and general election—to Hoeber’s personal committee.
Besides the Oct. 23 debate in Gaithersburg and the Oct. 24 forum in Hagerstown for which Trone and Hoeber have confirmed appearances—and which will also include Libertarian Party nominee Kevin Caldwell and Green Party candidate George Gluck—Hoeber and the two minor party candidates are also committed to appear at two earlier candidate sessions: Oct. 11 in Hagerstown sponsored by the League of Women Voters (LWV) of Frederick County and Washington County and Oct. 15 at Clarksburg High School, sponsored by a student political club, Youth and Government.
A Trone spokesman Tuesday could not provide immediate comment on whether the latter two will be included in the Democrat’s campaign schedule. Organizers of both of those forums said they had reached out to the Trone campaign on several occasions over the past couple of months, but had not received a response.
The situation has sparked a “debate over debates” of sorts, with Hoeber taking to Facebook earlier this month to chide the Trone campaign for failing to respond to the LWV invitation.
“… I am dismayed to learn that he and his campaign have not even responded to the League of Women Voters invitation … after having cancelled at the very last minute his participation in the debate they sponsored during the primary,” Hoeber wrote. “I urge Mr. Trone and his campaign team to at least acknowledge this invitation. Or perhaps do they think that women are not worth responding to?”
While the race in the 6th District—which was redrawn following the 2010 census to the benefit of the Democratic Party—is considered the most competitive congressional contest in the state this year, political handicappers give Trone a major advantage. Two Washington-based publications that closely track congressional races around the country, the Cook Political Report and Inside Elections, both rate the 6th District as “solid Democratic.”
The recent revelation of Trone’s health issues have not affected that assessment. “Trone’s health situation may generate sympathy towards him, and it’s unlikely to cost him many votes of Democrats who badly want to see Democrats win the House this year,” David Wasserman, House editor of the Cook Political Report, said in a telephone interview.
While the seat was competitive in 2014, “when Larry Hogan racked up such a large margin in the district that it nearly swept a Republican [Dan Bongino] in with him,” Hoeber and the GOP face a couple of major obstacles this year, Wasserman said.
The Democratic-dominated Montgomery County portion of the district “becomes the larger share of the vote every year, because of the growth in western Montgomery County,” he noted. “The second problem is that this is simply a Democratic wave election—and those voters are much more likely to turn out than in 2014.” Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 3-1 in voter registration in the Montgomery portion of the district.“This is not a place that Republicans are actively … attempting to win from a national party standpoint,” Wasserman added, alluding to the fact that the National Republican Congressional Committee—the campaign arm of the House GOP majority—has yet to commit resources to the Hoeber campaign.
But Haire maintained the party has a good shot at taking the seat.
“As state GOP chairman, I can tell you that our polling shows that we have a serious opportunity to elect Amie Hoeber in Congressional District 6,” Haire said in his invitation to Friday’s fundraiser for Hoeber. “You may recall that in 2014 Dan Bongino almost won this district. We do not want to fall short again.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect that the Trone fundraiser, billed as a “Congressional Women Reception,” will feature four female incumbents as guests instead of three as previously stated.