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Race Politics Roils Maryland Democratic Senate Primary
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Race Politics Roils Maryland Democratic Senate Primary

Plus: The president keeps laughing at himself.

Happy Monday! The 2024 NFL Draft concluded this weekend, and we hope you are happy with your team’s selections. In terms of the presidential campaign, the American people seem to think the two major parties chose busts.

Up to Speed

  • Former President Donald Trump leads President Joe Biden among registered voters in a new CNN poll released Sunday, 49 percent to 43 percent, with the presumptive Republican nominee’s share of the vote staying the same and the incumbent’s dropping 2 points compared to a poll from the same source in January. A majority of respondents, 55 percent, also said they see Trump’s presidency as a success in hindsight, while 61 percent said Biden’s presidency so far was a failure. Biden had cut Trump’s lead in polling earlier in April, but he now trails the former president by 1 point nationally in the RealClearPolitics polling average, the largest deficit between the two in that measure since the beginning of the month.
  • During a Friday interview with radio host Howard Stern, Biden for the first time this campaign season voiced his willingness to debate Trump. “I don’t know when. I’m happy to debate him,” Biden said. Trump reacted to the news by posting on Truth Social that Biden “doesn’t really mean it,” before suggesting, if Biden were serious, that the two debate within days. Biden had previously not committed to debating Trump, while Trump had said he would debate Biden anywhere at any time and asked the Bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates to add more contests between him and Biden in addition to the three already scheduled.
  • North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has gained traction as a potential vice presidential pick for Trump, Axios reported Sunday. The former president has reportedly brought up Burgum’s name for his running mate, saying he favors the governor’s calm temperament and lack of scandals. Those were similar traits Trump liked in Mike Pence, the Indiana governor whom he picked as his running mate in 2016 before turning on him when Pence refused to reject slates of electors from states Biden won in 2020.
  • One Republican who may have fallen out of favor with Trump is Arizona Senate candidate Kari Lake, according to a Monday report from the Washington Post. The former president has reportedly told those close to him he is skeptical of her chances of winning the battleground state and fearful that Lake, who previously lost a gubernatorial race in 2022 after he endorsed her, could drag down his own electoral prospects. Lake lags behind her presumptive Democratic opponent, Rep. Ruben Gallego in fundraising, taking in about $3.6 million in the first quarter of 2024 compared to Gallego’s $7.5 million.
  • In more down-ballot news, former Rep. Peter Meijer withdrew from the Michigan Senate race Friday, saying the “fundamentals” of the race changed from when he first announced his run. “Without a strong pathway to victory, continuing this campaign only increases the likelihood of a divisive primary that would distract from the essential goal—conservative victories in November,” he said in a statement posted to X. Though former Rep. Justin Amash and wealthy businessman Sandy Pensler remain in the race, Meijer’s withdrawal from the primary makes it all the more likely that Trump-endorsed former Rep. Mike Rogers will advance to face Democratic frontrunner Rep. Elissa Slotkin in the fall.
  • Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida has a Republican challenger in his primary, which will take place August 20, according to the Pensacola News Journal. The right-wing, four-term congressman will face former naval aviator Aaron Dimmock, who filed to challenge Gaetz in the race on Friday, the day of the filing deadline. The Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman reported that allies of former Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy were behind Dimmock’s run, months after Gaetz led the effort to eject McCarthy from his speakership.

How Race Will Play a Part in Maryland’s Senate Election

U.S. Senate candidate Angela Alsobrooks marches in the Towson Fourth of July Parade in Towson, Maryland, on July 4, 2023. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
U.S. Senate candidate Angela Alsobrooks marches in the Towson Fourth of July Parade in Towson, Maryland, on July 4, 2023. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland — David Trone, the wealthy Maryland Democratic congressman and founder of alcohol retailer Total Wine & More, has spent more money on his own primary campaign for the U.S. Senate than any other candidate in the history of Senate primary campaigns. Despite dumping $42 million into his primary bid and amassing a nearly 15-1 advantage in ad spending over his Democratic competitor, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, the outcome of the May 14 Democratic primary remains in doubt.

Primary polling has shown Trone with a lead, but there are still enough undecided voters that Alsobrooks still has a decent chance to pull off an upset. In March, a Washington Post/University of Maryland poll found Trone leading Alsobrooks 34 percent to 27 percent, while a Baltimore Banner/Goucher College poll pegged the race at Trone 42 percent, Alsbrooks 33 percent.

But those polls were mostly conducted before Trone, a white man running against a black woman, uttered the racial slur “jigaboo”—defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as an “insulting and contemptuous term for a black person.” At a House Budget Committee hearing in late March, Trone criticized “this Republican jigaboo that it’s the tax rate that’s stopping business investment, it’s just completely faulty by people who have never run a business.” He quickly apologized and said he intended to say “bugaboo” not “jigaboo.” 

Not since Republican Sen. George Allen lost his Virgina seat in 2006 after calling an Indian American campaign tracker “macaca” has the utterance of an obscure racial slur potentially mattered so much in a U.S. Senate race. The Washington Post editorial board endorsed Alsobrooks on April 18, and Trone’s racial gaffe has not been forgotten by Alsobrooks supporters on the campaign trail. Calvin Hawkins, a Prince George’s County Council member, called to mind Trone’s remark when he introduced Alsobrooks at an April 26 campaign event. Hawkins told the crowd gathered at a shop in National Harbor: “When Republicans across this nation can find ways to stop people from going to colleges and universities although they’re qualified—when one of our Democrats can use so freely use zigaboo, zugaboo, whatever—we need Angela Alsobrooks as our next United States senator!”

At the same campaign event, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the former House majority leader, leaned heavily on the issue of racial diversity. “I’m a little disconcerted by one of our delegates up north, [who] has an ad in which she’s endorsing the opposition, and the interesting thing she says … in that ad, ‘I’m for umpty ump because he’s for inclusion,’” Hoyer said, declining to even say the name of Trone, who has served alongside Hoyer for three terms in the House. (Five of Trone’s six Maryland Democratic House colleagues have endorsed Alsobrooks, who also has the backing of Gov. Wes Moore.) 

Hoyer said there will be no African American women in the Senate next Congress, but “that delegate is supporting a white male who’s got a lot of money. There are a lot of those in the United States Senate, folks. So I looked at that and I said: What are you talking about? If you want to be for inclusion, if you want to make sure that all people are included in the United States Senate, you need to be for Angela Alsobrooks!”

(Hoyer’s claim about the possibility of no black women in the Senate fails to account for the likely election of Delaware Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester to the U.S. Senate.)

Despite his racial gaffe in March, Trone made the not-too-subtle argument at an April 19 debate with Alsobrooks that he has “the persona” to win rural (i.e. whiter) areas of Maryland: “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.”

When Alsobrooks herself spoke at the April 26 event, she was more subtle about race-related issues. She chose to hit Trone for campaign donations he or his company made to anti-abortion Republicans like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and “people like [Georgia Gov.] Brian Kemp, who took hundreds of thousands of people off the voter rolls—remember that?”

Alsobrooks’ remarks underscored the big challenge that any Maryland Democratic Senate nominee will face in 2024: The presumptive Republican nominee, former Gov. Larry Hogan, is very popular. Alsobrooks said 2024 is “one of the single most important elections of our lifetimes” because of the “real and present threat” of reelecting Donald Trump. “He’s a wicked leader, he’s a leader without integrity, he’s a leader who is racist,” she said. The Republican Party is a danger “not because Larry Hogan is an evil man. I like Larry Hogan. I’ve worked with him, but he’s a member of a party that is led by Donald Trump.”

While Trone will significantly outspend Alsobrooks during the last two weeks of the primary campaign, the historical record does provide a hopeful data point in her favor: The previous record for the most money spent in a Senate primary campaign by a self-funding candidate was held by Illinois Democrat Blair Hull, whose $30 million spent in 2004 was not enough to beat a state senator named Barack Obama.

Joe Biden Signals He’s in on the Jokes About His Age

Joe Biden may be learning to embrace perhaps his biggest liability ahead of the November election: his advanced age.

The president was yukking it up at this weekend’s White House Correspondents Association (WHCA) dinner at jokes about his age and even made a handful of self-deprecating jabs at himself, as he has done at the previous two dinners he’s attended while in the White House.

“Kelly O, let’s be honest,” Biden said Saturday night as he thanked the 58-year-old president of the WHCA, NBC News correspondent Kelly O’Donnell. “You’re way too young to be president.”

He also joked that he told the first lady Jill Biden not to worry about his performance. 

“I told her, ‘Don’t worry.  It’s just like riding a bike.” She said, ‘That’s what I’m worried about,’” Biden said, referring to an incident two years earlier when he fell off a bike while on vacation. The president also made sure to target his opponent, Republican Donald Trump, saying he is “running against a 6-year-old.”

But the comedic entertainment for the evening, veteran Saturday Night Live performer Colin Jost, took some more direct shots at Biden’s age. Jost joked that photography had not been invented when Biden attended high school and likened Biden’s ability to climb stairs to the economy, saying it “feels like it’s stumbling but there’s some upward progress.”

Biden could be seen laughing at several of these jabs after having made light of his age in his own remarks. “I have to admit: It’s not easy following President Biden,” Jost said at one point. “I mean it’s not always easy following what he’s saying.”

Too much ink can be spilled about the annual dinner, which is understandable, if not forgivable, given that the gala is put on by and for journalists. But the regular appearance of the commander-in-chief—except for Donald Trump, every sitting president since Calvin Coolidge has attended at least one WHCA dinner—lends the event a modicum of import. It was, after all, at the 2011 dinner where President Barack Obama mocked the in-attendance Trump and may have motivated the future president to seek higher office five years later.

To the extent that Saturday’s dinner tells us anything, it may be that Biden has accepted that Americans are wary that the 81-year-old is capable of continuing to be president. Indeed, 67 percent of registered voters told the Quinnipiac University poll in February that they believe Biden is too old to serve another four years. And that month’s report from special counsel Robert Hur, which depicted Biden as a doddering old man in interviews, only reinforced that view and left Democratic strategists fretting about Biden’s chances. Even so, Biden campaign surrogates tried to downplay concerns about the president’s age publicly.

Biden himself, however, seems to be done ignoring his campaign’s biggest hindrance. His first ad of the general election, released last month, features a smiling Biden speaking directly to camera.

“Look, I’m not a young guy,” Biden says in the first words of the 60-second spot. “That’s no secret. But here’s the deal: I understand how to get things done for the American people.”

Addressing those concerns about his age and mental acuity—and laughing along with some jokes made at his expense on national TV—certainly won’t be sufficient for salvaging his increasingly dismal chances at reelection. But it’s almost certainly necessary.

Notable and Quotable

“Whether running the ranch or in politics, I have never passed on my responsibilities to anyone else to handle. Even if it’s hard and painful. I followed the law and was being a responsible parent, dog owner, and neighbor.”

—South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem in an X post defending her decision to kill a difficult-to-train dog on her family’s ranch 20 years ago, which she recounts in an upcoming memoir, April 28, 2024

John McCormack is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was Washington correspondent at National Review and a senior writer at The Weekly Standard. When John is not reporting on politics and policy, he is probably enjoying life with his wife in northern Virginia or having fun visiting family in Wisconsin.

Michael Warren is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was an on-air reporter at CNN and a senior writer at the Weekly Standard. When Mike is not reporting, writing, editing, and podcasting, he is probably spending time with his wife and three sons.

Charles Hilu is a reporter for The Dispatch based in Virginia. Before joining the company in 2024, he was the Collegiate Network Fellow at the Washington Free Beacon and interned at both National Review and the Washington Examiner. When he is not writing and reporting, he is probably listening to show tunes or following the premier sports teams of the University of Michigan and city of Detroit.