Alsobrooks prevails in tense Maryland Senate primary: Five takeaways

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Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks clinched the Maryland Senate Democratic primary over Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) on Tuesday, putting her a step closer to becoming the first Black woman to represent the Old Line State in the Senate. 

First, however, she must defeat popular former Gov. Larry Hogan (R) — by no means a sure thing. The pair is battling for outgoing Sen. Ben Cardin’s (D-Md.) seat in a race that was supposed to be of little drama for Democrats but that became more unpredictable with Hogan’s entrance.

Meanwhile, prominent moderate Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) fended off a challenge against conservative candidate Dan Frei. At the same time, potential breakout star Harry Dunn, a former Capitol Police officer who defended lawmakers during the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, lost his Democratic primary to a candidate backed by a super PAC affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)

At the top of the ticket, President Biden and Donald Trump easily glided to victory. But problems lurk for both men, with Nikki Haley notably racking up swaths of votes in all three GOP primaries.

Here are five takeaways from the Maryland, West Virginia and Nebraska primaries: 

Trone’s deep pockets weren’t enough to win

Alsobrooks, who enjoyed the support of prominent Maryland Democrats, won the Democratic contest for Cardin’s seat despite the tens of millions of dollars Trone spent in the primary. 

Trone, the co-owner of Total Wine, spent at least $61 million of his own money for the chance to take on Hogan this fall. While the Maryland congressman had the clear cash advantage, Alsobrooks had the backing of party establishment figures like Gov. Wes Moore (D), Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), among others. Trone was endorsed by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).

Trone also stumbled repeatedly throughout the campaign, including by airing a commercial in which one of his supporters insinuated that Alsobrooks needed “training wheels,” and another time for mistakenly using a racial slur during a House hearing.  

In short, the primary underscored that no amount of money guarantees a candidate victory.

Though the nonpartisan election handicapper Cook Political Report rates the seat “likely Democrat,” Hogan’s entry into the race will force Democrats to spend on what was supposed to be a safe blue seat. 

Trump’s Haley problem isn’t going away

Several of Tuesday’s primaries also showcased a nagging problem for Trump — an enduring protest vote movement backing his former rival Nikki Haley, who dropped out of the race in March.

In both Maryland and Nebraska, Haley had received 20 percent of the GOP primary vote by late Tuesday night.

Over in deep-red West Virginia, Haley fared worse, only receiving about 9 percent of the primary vote with 89 percent of the vote reported at time of publication. While all of these numbers could still fluctuate, they underscore a lingering issue for the former president as he struggles to make inroads with a faction of the GOP that remains skeptical or averse to him.  

In Indiana last week, Haley notably notched 22 percent of the vote — a surprisingly high percentage of Republican support given the former U.N. ambassador had been out of the race for two months at that point.  

While many of those states are unlikely to be close between Trump and Biden this fall, the Haley votes could serve as a warning to the former president in swing states, where even narrow margins could ultimately make a difference.

At the same time, however, Biden has had to contend with persistent protest votes over his administration’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war, which is threatening his reelection bid.

AIPAC scores a win in Maryland 

The super PAC aligned with AIPAC scored a win in the Old Line State after it backed state Sen. Sarah Elfreth (D) in the Democratic contest for retiring Rep. John Sarbanes’s (D-Md.) seat.  

Elfreth’s most prominent Democratic challenger was Dunn, who became a household name for testifying in front of the House select committee investigating the Capitol riot several years ago.  Both candidates had pledged support for Israel.

Dunn blasted the United Democracy Project for wading into the race, writing in a post on X last month, “A SuperPAC funded by MAGA extremist donors who also gave to Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Lauren Boebert just dropped $500k in our race. They want to buy this election. They will fail.” 

Elfreth told Maryland Matters last month that she didn’t know the super PAC was getting involved in the race. Still, the super PAC is showing how pro-Israel groups are flexing their muscles ahead of a pivotal November election. 

A moderate Republican staves off a right-wing challenge 

Bacon survived a primary challenge from his right on Tuesday after defeating Frei in the GOP contest for Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District.  

Frei was endorsed by House Freedom Caucus Chair Bob Good (R-Va.) and the Nebraska GOP, while Bacon received the support of House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.). Bacon’s win will come as a relief to House Republicans, given the swingy nature of the state’s 2nd District.  

Bacon has held onto the seat for four terms so far, despite the fact that it went for Biden by more than 6 points in 2020. 

Bacon is now gearing up for a rematch against state Sen. Tony Vargas (D), whom he defeated by more than 2 points in 2022. 

Manchin’s likely successor glides to victory 

Gov. Jim Justice (R), who won the Senate Republican primary Tuesday night, is all but guaranteed to replace Manchin this fall, given the state’s Republican tilt.

That will already leave Democrats and Republicans in a 50-50 split in the Senate; if Trump wins the presidency in November, Republicans will flip the Senate with Justice’s win alone.  

The current governor will face off in November against Wheeling, W.Va. Mayor Glenn Elliott, who received the endorsement of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and easily won the Democratic primary Tuesday.  

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