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Maryland's Democratic primary is shaping up to be the most expensive in state history

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Republicans believe a reliably blue Maryland Senate seat could flip red this fall and help give the GOP the majority. That's raised the stakes of today's tight Democratic primary, which is shaping up to be the most expensive in state history. NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANGELA ALSOBROOKS: Are you planning to vote in the election?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: Yes, I am.

ALSOBROOKS: Oh, gosh. I feel lucky to be able to introduce myself to you, then.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Campaigning at the University of Maryland, Angela Alsobrooks is trying to become the next senator from Maryland. Now Prince George's County executive, if elected in November, Alsobrooks would make history as the first Black woman representing the state.

ALSOBROOKS: I think that we ought to be able to look in that Senate and see some of all of us there - of every race, gender and background.

WALSH: She's running against three-term Congressman David Trone, the co-owner of Total Wine & More, a major alcohol retail chain. He's poured over $60,000,000 into the primary for the seat of retiring Democratic Senator Ben Cardin. The candidates agree on nearly every major issue. They both say if a Republican wins, issues like abortion rights and protecting democracy are at risk. But in the primary's only debate, Trone emphasized he's the one who has delivered in Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID TRONE: We get stuff over the finish line - 26 bills passed last time just on addiction and mental health alone, plus Pell Grant bills to help returning citizens.

WALSH: But Alsobrooks says her executive experience sets her apart.

ALSOBROOKS: You know, voting is step one. I understand step one. I have step two, three and four.

WALSH: Some Alsobrooks supporters say Trone turned negative, with a comment in a recent NBC interview suggesting Alsobrooks was inexperienced.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRONE: This job is not for someone on training wheels. This job is for someone that's really been doing the work.

WALSH: Maryland Democratic Congressman Steny Hoyer, who's represented the area for more than 40 years, backs Alsobrooks. He warned Trone and his supporters to steer clear of what he saw as demeaning comments.

STENY HOYER: These have been negative statements, belittling statements. They should not have happened.

WALSH: He says overall, the race has been positive, but the shift in tone came with the shift in the polls. Alsobrooks is also winning endorsements from people like Governor Wes Moore and Senator Chris Van Hollen. Trone has endorsements from top House Democratic leaders like Hakeem Jeffries and local leaders from Prince George's County like Ashanti Martinez. Martinez points out that Trone also has support from labor unions and from Latino leaders, pointing to his bipartisan approach to issues.

ASHANTI MARTINEZ: One of the most effective members that we've sent from Maryland to the Congress, getting stuff done on mental health, addiction, substance abuse - areas that I think touch every single corner of this state and almost all of our families.

WALSH: Alsobrooks argues she can build a coalition and raise money to go up against Larry Hogan, the expected GOP nominee. He's a popular former governor with the track record of winning as a Republican in a traditionally blue state.

ALSOBROOKS: I think the big part of it is that we want a candidate that inspires people to come out, to be excited.

WALSH: But she downplays any divisions or hard feelings inside the party, saying if she loses, she'll campaign for Trone. Martinez says Trone supporters would do the same.

MARTINEZ: The people that I've spoken to, the community that I represent, cannot afford a Senate that is run by MAGA Republicans.

WALSH: Whoever prevails tonight, Maryland will be at the center of the battle for control of the Senate in November.

Deirdre Walsh, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.