A candidate in a Maryland congressional primary has broken the record for the amount of money a self-funded House candidate has put into a single campaign, as wine superstore owner David Trone has uncorked more the $12 million of his fortune in a crowded Democratic primary that includes former local television anchor Kathleen Matthews, who is married to MSNBC's "Hardball" host Chris Matthews.
The race itself is the most expensive House primary in the country this election cycle, according to data compiled by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.
State Sen. Jamie Raskin, an energetic, liberal constitutional law professor with a successful resume in the General Assembly, and two former aides from President Barack Obama's administration, William Jawando and former Deputy Secretary of State Joel Rubin, also are in the race. Four other candidates, including state legislators Kumar Barve and Ana Sol-Gutierrez, also are running in a district that spreads from wealthy neighborhoods bordering the nation's capital up to the Pennsylvania state line. The seat is opening because incumbent Rep. Chris Van Hollen is seeking the Democratic nomination for Senate.
While the field for Maryland's 8th Congressional District is rich with candidates, it is the spending by the owner of Total Wine and More that has caught the most attention since his late entry in January into the race. Voters have been bombarded by ads and mailings.
"It's just been overkill, and from some candidates I've gotten more than one piece of mail in a day," said Anne Fretz, 74, of Chevy Chase. She voted for Raskin after he knocked on her door, prompting her to study his candidacy. "I just think that's way too much. It's upsetting to think of how much money is being spent on the campaign."
Trone's self-funding, which are direct payments and not loans to be repaid later, beats the previous self-funded record holder for a House seat, New Mexico Democrat Phil Maloof, who loaned his campaign nearly $10 million. Some of that was repaid in Maloof's losing effort in 1998, so his total net self-funding was roughly $6.3 million, according to data from the center.
Trone, whose company has 150 stores in 21 states, has been a major political donor to candidates of both parties. That's because his company has contended with changing alcohol laws in states throughout the country for years, from regulations on craft beer to Sunday store hours.
"We know how to work across the aisle," Trone said in a recent interview. "We understand how the system works, and we realize we've got to work together to get stuff done."
He has hosted Obama and former President Bill Clinton for fundraisers at his mansion in posh Potomac, Maryland. He said he could have raised the money he is spending from donors, but didn't want to be beholden to special interests. While he supports public financing, he said spending such a large sum on his campaign was the only way a nearly unknown candidate could compete with better-known candidates such Matthews and Raskin in a costly media market.
His message has resonated with some voters. While they are wowed by the amounts being spent in the campaign, supporters say his ads have been effective, direct and authentic.
Susie Moore, 49, of Chevy Chase, voted for Trone during Maryland's early voting period. Moore said she agrees with his liberal views on gun control and women's rights. She likes that he's a successful businessman who is self-funding his campaign, even though she would prefer set amounts of campaign spending by all candidates.
"I like that he was not taking money, that he ran his campaign and paid for his own campaign. So, I don't feel like he's bought by special interests, which I have a real problem with," Moore said.
Matthews is well-known locally and is running as a progressive Democrat with business experience in a large company. She worked as an executive at Marriott, the hotel chain, after leaving TV. She has raised about $2.6 million for her campaign. She added $500,000 of her own money, saying Trone dramatically raised the stakes of the campaign as a wealthy self-funder.
"It's been harder to get your message out because there has been one candidate who has been able to pretty much control the airwaves," Matthews said in an interview Thursday at an early voting center.
Raskin had set a $1.5 million fundraising goal and has raised $1.9 million. He said he is sticking with his plan to out-organize and out-hustle his opponents.
"This campaign has become a referendum on the future of politics within the Democratic Party. It's parallel to what's happening in the Republican Party, but there I think that big money is winning, and I think this race can show that grassroots Democrats can beat the big money," Raskin said.
Maryland's primary is Tuesday.