Senate Democrats’ ugliest primary comes to a close Tuesday in reliably blue Maryland. Now they must heal the resulting political wounds before November — or risk losing the seat to popular former Gov. Larry Hogan.

Democrats have a difficult map to defend, and they can hardly afford to worry about this seat in the fall. But the brutal nomination fight between Rep. David Trone and Angela Alsobrooks, the Prince George’s County executive, has reverberated through a party that usually handles primaries in a more civil fashion.

Trone belittled Alsobrooks’ experience and endorsements from Prince George’s County, attacked her “special interest” fundraising and briefly ran an ad as part of his $60 million campaign that implies she’d need “training wheels” as senator. Alsobrooks sniffed at Trone’s “temperament” after he tore into a TV reporter and whacked him for donating to “radical Republicans” who are anti-abortion rights.

Plus, Alsobrooks’ allies have repeatedly brought up Trone using a racial slur demeaning to Black people during a congressional hearing in March, which he said was a mistake.

“I was not happy with some of his statements. And I thought it lacked cultural sensitivity. I thought they were inappropriate,” said Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus who has endorsed Alsobrooks. “It was disappointing that a member would do that. And in a campaign where you’re running in a community that has a lot of folks that look like me.”

The last contested primary in Maryland was tough stuff, too, a 2016 bout between former Rep. Donna Edwards and now-Sen. Chris Van Hollen. But it lacked the same general election stakes as this year’s bout — it’s safe to say this is absolutely the most important primary on Democrats’ calendar.

The winner will face the first competitive general election in nearly 20 years in Maryland, one of the most diverse states in the nation, facing off against a two-term former governor who is likely to have plenty of air support from Republicans. Many Democrats have a gut feeling that the race will be nearly impossible for the GOP to win given the state’s blue bent and the presence of former President Donald Trump on the ballot.

But Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) warned that the “former governor is absolutely a factor, we can’t ignore that, or just assume that, well, Maryland’s blue.” In other words, Democrats need to settle their divisions quickly or they risk giving Hogan a shot at winning.

“We need to take the threat of November very seriously. The alternative could not be more clear,” warned Democratic Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, who is supporting Alsobrooks. “We need to be prepared to be able to win the war.”

Maryland stands out this cycle as the only major internecine conflict, and it’s gone far differently than two key primaries last cycle. In 2022, Democrats largely avoided nomination fights and unsightly drama, even in contested primary states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

And senior Democrats are clearly exasperated with the continued Maryland primary attacks, even as they work to outwardly portray a united front. Retiring Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) merely said he would “prefer that not to happen” and Democratic Senatorial Chair Gary Peters (D-Mich.) added: “Obviously, we prefer primaries not go negative.”

Still, Peters insisted that things did not reach a level where he needed to intervene. And there are signs that the primary rift could be healed — in statements to POLITICO, both campaigns vowed to support their rival if they fall short on Tuesday.

Former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (center) talks with Andrew DePaola (right) and his wife, Amy DePaola, both of DePaola's Bagel and Brunch in Stevensville, Maryland, on April 12 as Hogan campaigns for the Senate.

Alsobrooks said she would “absolutely support the Democratic nominee. We have to defeat Larry Hogan, and we will.” The Trone campaign said the congressman is “committed to doing whatever it takes to defeat Larry Hogan, regardless of who the Democratic nominee is.”

Of course, that will still be a challenge, particularly as general election voters have now seen intra-party attack ads that weaken both Alsobrooks and Trone ahead of the general election. And there’s also the question of whether Trone would use his deep pockets of personal wealth to help Alsobrooks if he were to lose.

All that drama has Republicans in the relatively rare position of marching unperturbed into the general election while Democrats beat up each other. And behind the scenes, a growing number of GOP officials believe that Trone is easier to beat in November because of episodes like his use of a racial slur earlier this year, which he apologized for.

National Republican Senatorial Chair Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said Hogan’s benefited from the contrast. He pointed to “petty fights in the primary, where you have somebody who is trying to buy his way into the Senate. It seems like the more Trone spends, the less traction he’s getting.”

“It further solidifies that Larry’s able to run a very positive, forward-looking campaign,” Daines added.

It’s not quite as ugly as recent Senate GOP primaries like in Ohio, but the two Democrats and their allies have indisputably sharpened their attacks in the closing days of the race. In an effort to undercut Alsobrooks’ argument that she has a far stronger base among voters of color in the state, Trone organized a press conference on Thursday with a dozen elected officials of color from her own county.

“No one has really questioned why Latinos, as a political power base, are backing Trone so strongly,” said State Del. Deni Taveras, who is Dominican American. Latinos make up about 19 percent of the state’s population. The Alsobrooks camp pushed back on that critique, pointing to her creation of a Latino Advisory Board for Prince George’s County.

Many of Trone’s allies are working to defang the criticisms surrounding race. He “has dedicated his life to dealing with issues that impact people of color, specifically Black people,” said Aisha Braveboy, who succeeded Alsobrooks as state’s attorney in the county. “We’re the most incarcerated race in this country. What he has said is … mass incarceration has to come to an end.”

Still, Trone has repeatedly stepped on toes with his offhand remarks, most recently when he said Alsobrooks only had “low level” endorsers from her county. Former House Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer called that comment “unfortunate,” and pointed to her endorsements from the governor, lieutenant governor, Van Hollen and five Maryland Democratic House lawmakers.

Hoyer isn’t alone among Alsobrooks allies who have bristled at Trone’s attacks. Some proposed that the gaffes could make him a weaker candidate in the general election.

“Those are things that definitely have not been helpful to his campaign, and I don’t see how they will be helpful in the general either, frankly,” said Rep. Glenn Ivey (D-Md.), an Alsobrooks backer.

Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) campaigned for Angela Alsobrooks last week.

Other Alsobrooks backers shrugged it all off. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), who campaigned for Alsobrooks last week, said the “campaign is not a place to be too frustrated … it’s tough work. She’s up for it. I think she’s handled herself very well.”

Still, the party entered the primary day hotly debating which candidate will be stronger against Hogan. Trone has his millions, but doesn’t exactly harmonize with Democrats’ national campaign against Republicans — portraying Senate GOP candidates as rich guys looking to buy their seats. And Alsobrooks will probably need a ton of financial help that could distract from other, must-win races in places like Ohio and Montana.

One congressional Democrat, granted anonymity to discuss party strategy, assessed the race this way: “I can’t tell you for sure what’s better for us: Would you trade the gaffes for ‘I’m willing to spend $75 million of my own money?’”

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