Editor’s Note: Welcome to “MoCo Politics,” a new twice-a-month column by MoCo360 contributing editor Louis Peck providing behind-the-scenes perspectives on the political scene in Montgomery County and Maryland at large as a very active 2024 campaign season looms.
It was 7 o’clock on Friday night of the Independence Day holiday week when Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Takoma Park) released the long-awaited announcement on his political future, after two months of struggling to reach a decision: He would forgo a bid for an open U.S. Senate seat and instead seek re-election to his 8th District House seat.
“I was wrestling with things right up until the end,” Raskin acknowledged in an interview last week.
Now, yet another two months later, he appears to remain conflicted, even as he looks beyond Maryland and strategizes on how he can best contribute to his party erasing House Republicans’ current five-seat advantage and regaining a majority of the 435-member chamber in November 2024.
Such an outcome would immediately put Raskin in line to chair the high-profile House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — as well as potentially positioning him for the influential chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee, on which he also serves, in the foreseeable future.
“I’ve been out campaigning for lots of House candidates, donating to House candidates and doing what I can to recruit House candidates,” said Raskin, whose packed portfolio these days includes a vice chairmanship of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign fundraising and strategy arm of the House Democratic Caucus.
His stints as lead manager of the second impeachment trial of President Donald Trump and subsequent service as a member of the ad hoc committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol by Trump loyalists have attracted avid supporters across the country to supplement a hardcore base of support in the Montgomery County-based 8th District — while also turning him into something of a fundraising powerhouse. As of June 30, his campaign treasury boasted a balance of $3.45 million.
Speaking shortly after returning from an August fundraising swing through a half-dozen states stretching from Massachusetts to Colorado, Raskin was upbeat: “There are lots of prime pickup opportunities out there…We are really within striking distance of winning back the House. That was another thing that was kind of weighing on me during the whole Senate thing.”
But the “Senate thing” has hardly faded for Raskin back home in Maryland, as he continues to field calls from Democratic activists who wish he had gotten into the competition for the seat of retiring Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Baltimore) — and, in some instances, still appear to harbor hope that he can be persuaded to change his mind with the 2024 filing deadline five months away.
“Obviously, I continue to hear from different people in Maryland about it, and that’s just a dynamic I’m living with,” Raskin said, proceeding to add: “I love our state, and I was very drawn to the idea of getting to campaign statewide, and to know people in a deeper way in the other parts of Maryland. I also know how much legislation we have fought for in the House that just hits a brick wall over in the Senate — and so I thought about the things that I might be able to accomplish over there.
“That part has been tough for me, thinking about the things I might be able to do over in the Senate.”
Cardin’s May 1 announcement that he would not seek a fourth Senate term came just days after Raskin had completed five months of what he described as a “brutal process” of chemotherapy following a diagnosis of diffuse large B cell lymphoma in late 2022. (Follow-up examinations have indicated the treatment was successful in eradicating the cancer.)
But, even absent the medical challenges, Cardin’s decision put Raskin in a very different position politically than the past—in 2006, when he ousted an entrenched incumbent, Democrat Ida Ruben of Silver Spring, to win a state Senate set, and a decade later, as he emerged on top of a crowded primary field for the House seat vacated by now-U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Kensington).
“I’ve only run for two things in my life: the state Senate and the U.S. House. Those were very easy decisions for me to make: I knew exactly what was the right thing to do, and nothing was going to stop me,” Raskin said. ”[But] when Sen. Cardin made his decision, I was plunged into a difficult process.”
He continued: “Ordinarily, I would have been very drawn to going to the Senate and learning the rules and procedures of a new institution — and trying to advance everything I’ve been working on in the House over in the Senate chamber. But I am the ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee, and if we win the House back, I will be the chair of the Oversight Committee, and be able to achieve a lot of policy influence within the House. So this was a major dilemma, and…a tough decision up until the very end. [It was] a new experience for me to be uncertain in that way about what I wanted to be running for.”
Barring the unlikely prospect of a change of course between now and the February filing deadline, Raskin’s focus will be on the nationwide effort integral to guaranteeing his future political clout: winning back Democratic control of the U.S. House. At the same time, however, he will be grappling with what could be a potential kingmaker’s role in swaying Democratic voters on who the next U.S. senator from Maryland should be, even if it isn’t him.
Raskin has yet to make a firm decision on whether he will endorse in a Democratic Senate primary; he said he expects to make such a determination sometime this fall. In the meantime, his phone rings regularly with calls from Democrats around the state in the process of deciding whom they will back in a field in which the leading contenders are Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, Rep. David Trone of Potomac and at-large Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando. “Lots of friends and colleagues have called to connect with me first before they’ve made their judgments,” Raskin acknowledged.
In an effort to appeal to many of the voters in the Democratic Party’s progressive wing who would have constituted Raskin’s base in a primary contest, Alsobrooks, Jawando and Trone have sought repeatedly to emphasize their progressive policy credentials in both press releases and interviews to date.
“Maryland is a progressive state, and we need progressive leadership at every level of government. That’s a responsibility that I feel strongly, and I know a lot of other political leaders do in Maryland,” declared Raskin, while declining to pass immediate judgment when asked to assess the progressive credentials of the Democratic candidates now in the field. “I haven’t done any systematic analysis of that, and I don’t think I want to pronounce on particular candidates,” he said.
In addition to progressive policies, personal relationships dating back nearly a decade constitute a key overlay to what Raskin may decide about a 2024 Senate endorsement — given that two of the current Senate contenders, Jawando and Trone, were among the nine-person field vying for the District 8 congressional nomination when Raskin won the seat in 2016.
Jawando, who finished a distant fifth in the 2016 primary, entered the race after a political snub by Raskin two years earlier. Seeking election to the House of Delegates from Silver Spring/Takoma Park-based District 20 in 2014, Jawando was passed over in a candidate slate organized by Raskin, then running for re-election to the state Senate; Jawando finished a close fourth on Primary Day for three available delegate nominations. (Among the winners on the 2014 slate were two former Raskin campaign managers: current Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Will Smith and David Moon, now majority leader of the House of Delegates).
If the once strained relationship between Raskin and Jawando—now in his second term of occupying the County Council’s left flank—has thawed to a degree in recent years, such does not appear to be the case with Trone, runner-up to Raskin in the multi-way 2016 congressional primary. (The final results that year were 34% for Raskin to 27% for Trone, with the only other candidate to score in double digits—former Marriott executive Kathleen Matthews—winning 24%.)
Jawando is seen as a long-shot candidate in the coming 2024 Democratic Senate primary, leaving Alsobrooks and Trone as the widely perceived frontrunners. While Alsobrooks is known to have met with Raskin since the latter’s early July announcement that he would stay out of the Senate race, there appears to have been little, if any, interaction between Trone and Raskin over the summer.
When Raskin announced July 7 that he would not enter the Senate race, Jawando hailed him as a “progressive champion” while an Alsobrooks statement characterized him as “a champion for Maryland and for democracy.” In contrast, a notably curt statement from Trone said only, “I respect my House colleague Jamie Raskin’s decision not to join the race for the US Senate.” For his part, Raskin last week sidestepped questions about the nature of his relationship with his neighboring congressional colleague
Despite recent efforts to woo progressive voters, Trone—initially elected to Congress in 2018 from adjacent District 6 after losing the District 8 nomination to Raskin two years earlier – has developed a voting record and modus operandi that has placed him in the Democrats’ more centrist wing. It is a position that he staked out going back to the 2016 primary contest, as highlighted in some comments that have not been forgotten by the Raskin camp.
During a March 2016 appearance before the Democrats’ District 18 Breakfast Club, Trone—while contending he and Raskin “agree on most progressive issues” — asserted: “Jamie will be a polarizing figure from the left, and I honestly don’t think he can work with the middle. It’s not about holding a lot of press conferences and talking about I, I, I. It’s about we, working together as Americans—Republicans and Democrats—and not this cult of the I.”
Raskin repaid the favor that year by jabbing at more than $150,000 in reported contributions by Trone to conservative Republicans around the country, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, which Trone—multimillionaire co-owner of a nationwide chain of alcohol beverage retail outlets—defended as necessary to advance the interests of his enterprise, Total Wine & More, in those states.
More broadly, Raskin took aim at Trone pouring millions of his personal fortune into the 2016 campaign. (Trone ended up spending $13.5 million of his own money in 2016, a record for a self-funded House candidate at the time.) During a March 2016 League of Women Voters debate in Frederick, Raskin went after “lots of illegal Trone signs placed all over the roads.”
“You’re stuffing our mailboxes, and the TV air waves and the radio air waves with your ads,” an exasperated Raskin told Trone “At least give us the public [roads]. That’s what the law says.”
Such memories have led to widespread speculation in state Democratic circles that Raskin will ultimately opt to endorse Alsobrooks — as two of his close allies, state Sen. Smith and former Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, already have. But, with more than eight months to go until Primary Day, Raskin appears a way off from tipping his hand in what remains a fluid contest—including, perhaps, the final makeup of the candidate field.