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Millionaires making election moves in Maryland, Nebraska and West Virginia

Trone, Justice look to take their wealth to the Senate, as Ricketts helps Bacon

Rep. David Trone, D-Md., has put nearly $62 million of his own money into his campaign for Senate.
Rep. David Trone, D-Md., has put nearly $62 million of his own money into his campaign for Senate. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Tuesday’s primaries feature a multimillionaire House member and a multimillionaire governor vying for open Senate seats in Maryland and West Virginia, while a multimillionaire Nebraska senator is funding a super PAC to aid a potentially vulnerable House colleague.

Of course, money does not guarantee success, and the clearest example of that is in a North Carolina primary runoff Tuesday in which one of the candidates — after putting more than $4 million of her own money into the race — dropped out and endorsed her opponent.

Below is a rundown of the key races that will be decided.

Maryland

Senate: Rep. David Trone and Angela Alsobrooks, the Prince George’s County chief executive, are locked in a close primary for Maryland’s Democratic Senate nomination. The winner is likely to face Republican Larry Hogan, a former two-term governor whose entrance into the race pushed Maryland into the group of states set to hold competitive Senate races this year.

Hogan, who had been seen as a possible third-party candidate for president to challenge both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, needs to clear his own primary on Tuesday. And one of his rivals, Robin Ficker, recently began airing ads saying he’d work with Trump if elected. But most of the focus leading up to Tuesday has been on the Democratic side, largely because Trone has blanketed the airwaves for months. 

Trone, the co-owner of Total Wine & More, had loaned his campaign $54.1 million as of April 24, the date of the last full accounting to the Federal Election Commission filings. Since then, he’s filed last-minute disclosures that add another $7.7 million to that total.

Alsobrooks raised $7.8 million by April 24, and did not put any of her own money into the race. Outside groups have come to her assistance to try to make up some of the difference, but the largest buy, from Women Vote, the independent expenditure arm of EMILY’s List, started earlier this month, just after early voting began. Disclosures through Thursday showed the group spent $2 million on television ads opposing Trone.

An Emerson College poll released Thursday showed a tight race, with 42 percent of voters saying they supported Alsobrooks and 41 percent saying they supported Trone, with 12 percent undecided. Alsbrooks’ support grew to 47 percent when undecided voters said who they were leaning toward, while Trone’s grew to 44 percent. 

But ahead of Tuesday’s election, the race between Trone and Alsobrooks has grown increasingly combative. While Trone is unapologetic about pouring his wealth into the campaign, Alsobrooks’ campaign and her allies have criticized him for calling her supporters “low level” and for an ad in which one of his supporters suggested she would need “training wheels,” a comment that Axios reported was later cut from the ad. 

Both candidates have campaigned alongside their endorsers in recent weeks. Alsobrooks has campaigned with Sen. Chris Van Hollen, while Trone hit the trail Tuesday with California Rep. Adam B. Schiff, who is also running for Senate this year. 

2nd District: Baltimore County Executive John “Johnny O” Olszewski faces five Democratic opponents for the seat being vacated by Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger. The winner of the Democratic primary will likely win the seat, which Biden would have won by 20 points in 2020, in November.

The other Democrats on the ballot are state Del. Harry Bhandari; Sia Kyriakakos, who was the state’s teacher of the year in 2017; state employee Sharron Reed-Burns; medical assistant Jessica Sjoberg; and insurance agent Clint Spellman.

Olszewski leads the pack in fundraising and reported raising $837,000 as of April 24, when he had $344,000 on hand. Protect Progress, a group with ties to the cryptocurrency industry, spent $209,000 to support his campaign. Bhandari trails him, having raised $181,000 and had $32,000 on hand as of the same date.

Olszewski is endorsed by Ruppersberger and fellow Maryland Democratic Rep. Steny H. Hoyer.

On the Republican side, Kimberly Klacik, a conservative talk radio host who ran in a 2020 special election in the 7th District to replace the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, is running against Army veteran and business owner John Thormann and businessman Dave Wallace. 

Among Republicans, Klacik is the leading fundraiser, but she has a major deficit to Olszewski. She raised $38,000 and had $12,000 on hand as of April 24, compared to Wallace’s $30,000 raised and Thormann’s $3,000. 

3rd District: The race to replace retiring Rep. John Sarbanes came into national view this year after Harry Dunn, a former Capitol Police officer who gained a national following speaking about his experience defending the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, joined the race in January. 

Dunn joined a crowded field that has 22 Democrats on Tuesday’s primary ballot, although at least one of those candidates, Michael Coburn, has terminated his campaign, according to an FEC filing. Dunn has used his platform to outraise the field, bringing in $4.6 million as of April 24. He had $714,000 on hand for the final weeks of the campaign.

His closest competitor, state Sen. Sarah Elfreth, raised $1.5 million and had $248,000 on hand. A handful of other state lawmakers are among the nearly two dozen candidates in the race.

Elfreth has received outside assistance though. United Democracy Project, the independent expenditure arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, spent $4.2 million on ads, phone banking and direct mail to support her campaign. One ad painted Elfreth as a productive member of the state legislature and focused on issues like abortion rights and the environment. 

In one of his own ads, Dunn directly took on UDP’s support for Elfreth, questioning why “a right-wing SuperPAC funded by Trump donors” was supporting a Democratic candidate.

There are nine candidates in the Republican primary. The district would have supported Biden by 25 percentage points in 2020, according to Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales, which rates the November race as Solid Democratic

6th District: Trone’s Senate run opened a competitive race for the 6th District seat he now holds, and Democratic candidates flocked to this campaign as well. The Democratic primary ballot has 16 names on it, although some candidates already ended their campaigns, while the Republican ballot includes seven candidates. Inside Elections rates the race as Likely Democratic and it could be the state’s only competitive House race this fall.

Among the leading Democratic candidates are April McClain Delaney, a former Department of Commerce official; Joe Vogel, a member of the state House of Delegates; and Hagerstown Mayor Tekesha Martinez. Delaney’s husband, former Rep. John Delaney, was Trone’s predecessor in the seat before he ran for president in 2020. 

Delaney leads the field in fundraising, having raised $1.9 million, including a $1.1 million loan, as of April 24 and had $767,000 on hand. Vogel raised $687,000 and had $117,000 on hand, while Martinez raised $580,000 and had $272,000 on hand.

Outside groups have sought to help Vogel and targeted Delaney. A group called Common Sense Common Ground PAC spent $48,000 supporting Vogel and opposing Delaney, while Equality PAC spent $397,000, mostly supporting Vogel but also opposing Delaney.

On the Republican side, Neil Parrott, the 2020 and 2022 Republican nominee in the district, is once again seeking the nomination. Dan Cox, who lost the state’s 2022 gubernatorial race, is also running.

Both were outraised by Navy veteran Tom Royals, who reported raising $521,000 as of April 24. Royals had $73,000 on hand for the final weeks of the campaign. Parrott raised $347,000 and had $163,000 on hand, while Mariela Roca, an Air Force veteran, raised $274,000 but had just $20,000 on hand on April 24. Cox raised $123,000 and had $23,000 on hand.

Another candidate, retired Maryland state trooper Chris Hyser, raised $153,000 and had $117,000 on hand as of April 24. An outside group called Constitutional Leadership PAC spent $58,000 to support his campaign. 

Nebraska

2nd District: The expected rematch between Republican Rep. Don Bacon, a retired Air Force brigadier general who has served in the House since 2017, and Democrat Tony Vargas, a state lawmaker and former public school teacher, is likely to help determine which party controls the chamber. Bacon prevailed by about 5,900 votes when the two faced one another in 2022.

But before Bacon takes on Vargas in November, he’ll have to get past businessman Dan Frei in the Republican primary. The battle pits Bacon, a four-term incumbent who belongs to the GOP’s moderate wing, against Frei, a favorite of grassroots activists.

Bacon had $1.7 million on hand to Frei’s $41,000 on April 24. 

Outside groups have also spent big on Bacon’s behalf. He received a $673,000 boost from the Big Red Leadership PAC, which despite its name is a super PAC funded primarily by Sen. Pete Ricketts, the state’s former governor who was appointed by his successor to an open seat last year. Ricketts is also on the ballot and faces two opponents for the nomination to serve the remainder of former Sen. Ben Sasse’s term. 

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a group aligned with House GOP leadership, has spent $75,000 in support of Bacon and $10,000 opposing Vargas. Those numbers are likely to grow before the November election.

Three pro-law enforcement super PACs — Honoring American Law Enforcement, Support America’s Police and Law Enforcement for a Safer America — spent a more than $200,000 combined in support of Bacon.

Frei loaned his campaign about $5,000 and Bacon put in $3,500.

Vargas doesn’t face a Democratic primary challenger, but outside groups supporting him are already gearing up for November. 

Vargas had $1.6 million on hand. The race is rated Tilt Republican.

West Virginia 

Governor: There are congressional connections to the governor’s race this year. The six-candidate Republican primary includes the 2018 Senate nominee, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey; Moore Capito, a former member of the House of Delegates and the son of Sen. Shelley Moore Capito; and Chris Miller, the son of Rep. Carol Miller.

Senate: Gov. Jim Justice and Rep. Alex X. Mooney are among the seven Republicans vying for the seat currently held by Sen. Joe Manchin III, a moderate and the sole remaining Democrat holding statewide office who announced in November he won’t run again. 

There are also three candidates competing in the Democratic Senate primary: Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott, Marine Corps veteran and progressive activist Zach Shrewsbury and former coal company CEO Don Blankenship, who spent a year in federal prison and ran unsuccessfully for Senate as a Republican in 2018. But in a state that Trump won by 39 percentage points in 2020, Manchin’s departure means the seat is all but guaranteed to flip to the GOP.

More than $7.7 million in outside money has been spent on the Senate race so far. Club for Growth, the powerful conservative anti-tax group, has laid out at least $2.1 million to oppose Justice, funding ads that portray the governor as both a “deadbeat billionaire” whose companies cut off health insurance for retired coal miners, and a former Democrat who donated millions to the campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Justice, the owner of The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, listed 17 assets on his Senate financial disclosure form worth at least $50 million. While he has not loaned his campaign any money, he has also been the beneficiary of more than $3 million in spending by Defend American Jobs, a super PAC affiliated with the cryptocurrency industry.

The race reflects a split within the GOP, with Justice, a former Democrat who has the backing of the Republican establishment in Washington, versus Mooney, a House Freedom Caucus member who has been endorsed by Trump and campaigned with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. 

Mooney has been the target of $706,000 in opposition spending by the Conservative Americans PAC, while another PAC, Protect West Virginias Values, spent $523,000 supporting the five-term incumbent.

Justice had $750,000 on hand as of April 24; Mooney had $637,000. 

The three Democrats seeking the seat had far less in their campaign accounts. Elliott, who has Manchin’s support, had the most with $65,000 followed by Shrewsbury with $57,000. But there is no preprimary disclosure available from the FEC for Blankenship. He filed a handwritten report for the first quarter showing a single $1,000 donation from himself. 

Inside Elections rates the race as Solid Republican.

2nd District:  Mooney’s run for Senate left an open seat in the safe red district that has drawn a crowd of contenders. The Republican primary field includes retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Chris Walker; Army veteran Nate Cain; retired Army Sgt. and cybersecurity engineer Joe Earley; Alex Gaaserud, who works in third-party logistics; and state Treasurer Riley Moore. The lone Democrat running is retired Navy officer Steven Wendelin.

Moore is part of a well-connected political family: His grandfather, Arch A. Moore Jr., was West Virginia’s longest-serving governor. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito is his aunt and Moore Capito is his cousin.

Several of Moore’s opponents have taken aim at his family connections and touted their outsider status. The district covers the northern half of the state and includes Morgantown, home to West Virginia University. It hasn’t been represented by a Democrat since 2001.

Moore got a $726,000 boost from Defend American Jobs, and Americans for Prosperity Action PAC, a pro-business group, spent $266,000 in support of his campaign. None of the other candidates benefitted from spending by outside groups.

With $408,000 on hand, Moore had the most resources in the final weeks before the primary. Walker, who loaned his campaign about $72,000, had $102,000. The rest of the field reported less than $35,000.

1st District: Rep. Carol Miller, who is seeking her fourth term, faces a challenge from three fellow Republicans, including Derrick Evans, who served three months in federal prison for his involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

North Carolina

13th District: Former federal prosecutor Brad Knott should win the 13th District Republican primary runoff against attorney Kelly Daughtry, considering Daughtry suspended her campaign earlier this month and endorsed him.

The most recent disclosure through April 24 showed Daughtry had put $4.3 million of her own money into the campaign, raised another $146,000 from donors and had $621,000 remaining. She finished first in a 14-candidate primary in March with 27 percent of the vote. Knott got 19 percent. The race went to a runoff because North Carolina requires candidates to get at least 30 percent in primaries to be nominated.

Knott has put $780,000 of his own money into the race, but more importantly, he was endorsed by Trump last month.

The 13th District, now represented by Democratic Rep. Wiley Nickel, was redrawn to be much more heavily Republican by the state legislature after the state Supreme Court reversed a ruling before the 2022 election that had said partisan gerrymandering violated the state constitution. If the current boundaries had been in place then, Biden would have lost to Trump in the district by 12 percentage points, according to Inside Elections. 

Nickel is not running this year, but said after the new map was adopted he will run for Senate in 2026. Small-business owner Frank Pierce was uncontested in the March Democratic primary.

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