Random Thoughts While Being Snowed In For The Weekend

Here’s a fun story to read while you sit huddled in your home, contemplating being stuck there for the next three days. David Lublin has what appears to be a major scoop - he reports that the owner of Total Wine and More, David Trone, is contemplating a late entry into the CD8 race.

David Trone of Total Wine is thinking about becoming a late entry into the Eighth Congressional District Democratic primary. Trone has never held or run for elective office previously but is wealthy and could self finance a campaign.

Trone is currently conducting a poll that tests general opinions about candidates as well as the impact of messages regarding Kathleen Matthews and Jamie Raskin. So what is Trone’s game?

The first thing that strikes me is that the tone of this piece is very matter of fact. The second thing I noticed is that there are no sources in the entire article for any of the information, not even a “sources close to Trone say” or some such formulation. The third thing I noticed is that Lublin knows exactly what Trone is polling about.

Messages Tested about Trone

The positive messages tested about Trone include information that he has never been involved in politics, grew up on a farm and then grew a family business, gave millions to liberal causes, and will self-fund rather than take money from special interests.

Trone’s nascent campaign also tested concerns regarding messages that he has been involved in numerous business and private lawsuits, given money to politicians who could affect his business, and failed to vote several times. Kind of Trone to do the opposition research for his potential opponents.

Messages Tested about Matthews and Raskin

The negative messages tested about Kathleen Matthews are that she said she didn’t know anything about business and was just a PR person for Marriott. Additionally, the poll mentioned that she made the maximum allowed contribution to Missouri Sen. Blunt, who is very anti-choice and tried to remove birth control from Obamacare.

The poll looked at the effect of telling voters that Jamie Raskin once represented Ross Perot and defended Ralph Nader’s participation in the 2000 presidential debate. Additionally, Raskin was characterized as an Annapolis insider endorsed by Mike Miller and the Annapolis establishment.

First off, there’s nothing wrong with testing negative issues about your own campaign. Wouldn’t you want to know whether an issue was going to have an impact - or not - before anyone else? It’s just common sense.

Second, the Matthews and Raskin issues are so laughably insubstantial that one has to wonder just what is rally going on here. Matthews’ contributions and business experience have been hashed over since the moment she announced her candidacy. And the Raskin issues about Perot and Nader - dating back to the 1990s - were the subject of three separate mail pieces by Ida Ruben in 2006. That didn’t got too well for her. The idea that they’d have any play ten years later is absurd. And stupid.

David Trone is a lot of things. But stupid isn’t one of them. He’s a shrewd and successful businessman. This poll - and the idea of a campaign - smacks of amateur hour. So what’s really going on?

Let’s start with the lack of sources - even anonymous - in Lublin’s article. It’s a more than fair surmise that his source is Adam Pagnucco, who is fronting the call for privatization and working with Trone and other liquor advocates, often in the pages of Lublin’s blog. I have heard any number of local activists and elected officials state their belief that Adam is being paid by Trone. Nothing wrong with that - I bring it up simply to buttress my opinion that Adam is Lublin’s source, and that if a CD8 campaign happens, that Adam will be a big part of it.

Who are Trone’s other friends in the alcohol imbroglio? Well, there’s Peter Franchot, and Bill Frick, and a few other elected officials. Who does Franchot support in CD8? Kathleen Matthews. Who does Frick support? Kathleen Matthews. So why would David Trone want to run for Congress and create conflict with those local and state officials who most support his business interests and desire to open up the Montgomery County liquor market? And even if he wins, being a congressman won’t help change the Maryland state liquor laws. It makes no sense.

Unless - and bear with me here while I speculate a little - this cozy little story isn’t really about David Trone suddenly developing an appetite for being an elected official. What if it’s more about bringing David Trone out of the shadows where he currently resides in the public imagination, humanizing him and laying the groundwork for a future public campaign to privatize the alcohol market in Montgomery County?

Let’s take it a little further. The Frick/Franchot bill is not going to pass this year. The votes simply aren’t there. So the issue will fade, at least for a while, and the earliest it can get on the ballot will be 2018. From Trone’s perspective, something needs to be done to keep the issue alive in the public’s mind, and what better way than to have its driving force spend a few million bucks raising his profile? That’s nothing to a man as wealthy as David Trone, and it might save him money down the road - remember, the successful Washington state referendum in 2011 cost Costco $22 million. So if a congressional campaign develops, it’s not about winning, whisper the voices in my feverish imaginings, but simply making him better known and more human and likeable.

Now let’s go back to the CD8 race as it stands. In terms of money, Kathleen Matthews has established herself as the clear leader: from her fundraising, from the outside groups ready to spend on her behalf, and from the prospect that she could spend a big chunk of her own money if she chooses to. If Trone follows through and “runs,” he’s likely to drop a minimum of $2-3 million into TV and direct mail. That would absolutely overwhelm every other candidate in the race, particularly Jamie Raskin. It would also, however, be more than what Kathleen Matthews would be able to spend - unless she writes herself a big check. So the final thing a Trone campaign would do is justify Matthews into feeling compelled to match his spending, dwarfing Jamie Raskin and the other candidates even further. Result: Matthews wins, Trone raises his profile, and the liquor fight carries on into 2017 and beyond, if necessary. Win-win-win for the Trone/Franchot/Frick & Others alliance.*

Do I “know” any of this? I emphatically do not. But when I look at all the questions the Lublin piece raises in my mind, the scenario I posit answers all of them, and in a manner consistent with the motivations of those involved. So I’m throwing it out to you, dear readers: the Unified Field Theory of Alcohol. What do you think? Brilliant thinking or the mad ravings of a guy who’s been sitting too close to the hot fireplace contemplating a weekend trapped in the house? You decide.

* I do not suggest that Kathleen Matthews has any part in the plotting of this theoretical scenario. I don’t know what her views on liquor privatization are, nor do I think she’s in cahoots with Trone. But the others are and they happen to be Matthews supporters as well as liquor zealots. By the transitive properties of politics, she becomes the potential beneficiary of her friends’ machinations. Maybe.

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