Trone, Alsobrooks Offer Contrasts in First and Possibly Only Televised Debate

MARYLAND MATTERS: The top two Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate took the stage Friday evening in their first, and possibly, only televised debate, which showcased their similarities on the issues but also their distinct personalities, backgrounds and strategy.

Before the one-hour debate began at the studios of Fox45 in Baltimore, U.S. Rep. David Trone walked to his left toward Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks and extended his hand. Alsobrooks obliged and shook his hand.

That’s where the camaraderie ended, as the May 14 primary is less than a month away.

It’s anticipated the winner would face popular former Gov. Larry Hogan (R) in the November general election, who jumped in the Senate race hours before the filing deadline.

In a 30-second TV spot released this week, Hogan said, “It’s time we stop the partisan B.S. and get stuff done.” The National Republican Senatorial Committee put up half the money to air the ad.

That candidate selected by the voters in November will replace longtime U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D), who announced last year he wouldn’t seek reelection. Maryland could become a factor in the fall as Democrats struggle to retain control of the Senate.

Hogan’s name came up several times during Friday’s debate, which was sponsored by Fox45, 7 News DC, The Baltimore Sun and the University of Baltimore’s Schaefer Center for Public Policy.

Both Democratic candidates mentioned the former governor when asked, “What makes you more electable than your opponent?”

Trone, who spoke with a certain intensity throughout the evening, reiterated how various polls all have him ahead of Alsobrooks and running stronger against Hogan than she does.

“Not one poll ever said my opponent can beat Larry Hogan ‘cause she won’t,” Trone said. “I have the resources to beat Larry Hogan. 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. All of these different areas are 31% of the vote total. They add up.”

Alsobrooks, who mostly presented her responses in a relaxed demeanor, pointed out that Trone has spent more than $40 million “to defeat me.”

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks talks with reporters April 19, 2024, after the one-hour debate at Fox45 television station in Baltimore. Photo by William J. Ford.

“What I know is that the broad coalition of people that we have developed all across the state, who include young voters, who include women voters and who include so many others are what is needed to defeat Larry Hogan in this race,” she said. “This race will be decided by the people and not by the money. Money can’t buy you love, and it really cannot buy you Maryland.”

The format allowed the candidates to offer 30-second rebuttals after their initial 60-second answers, but they didn’t use the opportunity to directly engage with each other.

That was a contrast to the activities of their communications shops, which fired off several emails to reporters during the course of the debate, pointing out inconsistencies in the other candidates’ answers or spotlighting inconvenient aspects of their opponents’ records on whatever topic was being discussed on the stage. Most of the campaign emails carried the subject line, “FACT CHECK.”

Reproductive rights remains one of the most intensely discussed topics on the campaign trail, not only in Maryland but throughout the entire country.

Trone, a wealthy businessman, has touted how his family foundation helped open an abortion clinic in Western Maryland that allowed residents in neighboring West Virginia to have access for the procedure and other reproductive health services.

“There’s no role for the federal government to moderate and regulate a woman’s health choices,” he said. “These are the choices between a woman and her doctor and no one else should be involved in that.”

After Trone outlined how Planned Parenthood has supported him, Alsobrooks pointed out that he’s donated money to Republicans in states with some of the strictest abortion laws in the country such as Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott.

“He cannot claim credit for the good his company does and distance himself from the bad that it does,” she said.

The candidates responded to questions on several other topics, including the economy, education and crime by Fox45 political reporter Mikenzie Frost, Baltimore Sun national politics reporter Jeff Barker and Roger Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore’s Schaefer Center for Public Policy.

In a question about whether Trone and Alsobrooks would support a repeal of the death penalty on the federal level, both said yes.

The question was specifically for Alsobrooks, who served as Prince George’s County state’s attorney and in 2011 and sought the death penalty for a man who killed four people, including children ages 2 and 3.

Two years later, Maryland abolished the death penalty and the highest punishment was and still remains life without the possibility of parole.

“Marylanders have spoken, and they have decided that the death penalty is no longer the law of the land in Maryland, and I agree with Maryland voters,” Alsobrooks said. “Having said that, what I believe is that anyone who harms a child, or who murders a child in particular, deserves the stiffest penalty available to that person.”

Trone’s response: “I’m the only candidate on the stage that’s always been 100% oppose to the death penalty. We know the death penalty is racist. It feeds our systemically racist system that we have in the criminal justice area. We can never have the death penalty. It is clearly cruel [and] unusual punishment.”

Alsobrooks and Trone spent an inordinate amount of time touting endorsements from their fellow elected officials. Alsobrooks mentioned Gov. Wes Moore (D), U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-7th), among others, while Trone name-checked the top Democratic leaders in the U.S. House and some key elected officials in Prince George’s County.

After the debate was over, Trone and Alsobrooks spoke with reporters. Both said they were both pleased with how it went and reiterated the endorsements they have received, including those that just came in on Thursday.

U.S. Rep. David Trone (D-6th) talks with reporters April 19, 2024, after the one-hour debate at Fox45 television station in Baltimore. Standing beside Trone are Prince George’s County Councilmembers Edward Burroughs III, left, and Krystal Oriadha. Photo by William J. Ford.

While standing in between Prince George’s County Councilmembers Edward Burroughs III and Krystal Oriadha, both Democrats, Trone said voters “are pleased” he’s willing to spend his own money without receiving checks from corporations, political action committees and lobbyists.

“When folks see that, they’re [going to] say, ‘Hey, why not go for independence?’ And folks like that,” Trone said.

Alsobrooks was asked if Moore, who endorsed her candidacy last fall, will be seen in on her behalf in the last several weeks of the primary.

“You’re going to see Gov. Moore,” said Alsobrooks, but she didn’t say exactly when that will be.

Del. Stephanie Smith (D-Baltimore City), an Alsobrooks supporter, was at the television station to watch the debate.

The forum will rebroadcast on Fox45 at 2 p.m. Saturday and at 6 p.m. on The CW Baltimore. It can also be viewed on baltimoresun.com and on YouTube.

As of late Friday night, no other televised forum or debate featuring both candidates has been scheduled.

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