The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In Maryland, candidates urge civility — then trash each other with mailers

Republican Amie Hoeber, left, and Democrat David Trone, right, are competing to succeed Rep. John Delaney (D) in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District. (Hoeber campaign, David Trone for Congress)

At a forum late last month, the candidates vying to succeed Rep. John Delaney in Maryland spoke of the importance of bipartisanship and restoring civility to political discourse.

Yet the campaign of Democrat David Trone and a political action committee backing Republican Amie Hoeber have each sent 6th District voters mass mailers depicting the opposing candidate in less than civil terms.

“You’re David Trone and Nobody Likes You,” read one mailer from the pro-Hoeber PAC that accused the Potomac businessman of, among other things, “trying to buy favor with politicians.”

“Secret File of Amie Hoeber,” read the mailer sent by the Trone campaign, which highlighted past statements that indicated the national security consultant’s support for the use of “deadly chemical weapons.”

The jousting reflects the stakes in what is believed to be Maryland’s most competitive congressional race, one in which Trone, 62, the co-founder of Total Wine & More, casts himself as a pragmatist bent on helping Democrats win a House majority and counter President Trump.

Delaney, a Democrat who has held the seat since 2012, is leaving Congress in January to run for president.

Hoeber, 76, a former Reagan administration appointee, is running as an anti-tax conservative who would help the Trump administration preserve and implement policies to strengthen the economy.

In a district stretching from Democratic precincts in Montgomery County to the more conservative counties of western Maryland, Hoeber is more likely to publicly invoke popular Republican Gov. Larry Hogan than Trump, even as she says she would vote for the president’s reelection.

It was the prospect of reelecting Hogan that inspired Bahman Teimourian, a plastic surgeon and a registered independent, to show up for early voting at the Potomac Community Center on Wednesday. Teimourian also voted for Hoeber, saying that he had a negative impression of Trone, based on mailings he received.

“Wasn’t he indicted or something?” Teimourian asked. (The answer is yes, nearly 30 years ago, on business-related charges, though the charges were dropped).

In interviews, most voters at the community center said they were supporting Trone, undeterred by months of attacks from opponents who have pilloried him for self-funding his campaign.

“It shows he’s not looking for anything in return,” said Nikki Miller, 64, of Bethesda. “He represents what he believes in and is not looking for compensation.”

Trone’s personal fortune gives him a substantial advantage in a race in which he has invested nearly $16 million of his own money — funds that have helped him finance television and radio ads, mass mailings and a robust field operation.

Yet Trone also knows that his wealth does not guarantee success. Two years ago, he spent $13 million to run in Maryland’s neighboring 8th District and lost to then-state Sen. Jamie Raskin in the Democratic primary.

Although Hoeber’s campaign has far less financial resources, her husband, Mark Epstein, a Qualcomm executive, has contributed at least $1.1 million to two political action committees, one of which paid for a recent anti-Trone mailing that included a photograph of his face surrounded by floating $100 dollar bills.

Asked about the anti-Trone mailers, Paul Ellington, Hoeber’s campaign manager, deflected responsibility, saying they were produced by the political action committee, Value in Electing Women. Hoeber’s husband has given at least $600,000 to the PAC since March.

Meredith Lesher, the PAC’s treasurer, referred questions to its executive director, Julie Conway, who did not respond to an email.

Ellington described Trone as a “formidable opponent because of his money,” but predicted Hoeber will win the election because Republicans in western Maryland counties such as Washington and Garrett “are coming home to the party” to support Trump’s agenda. Trump’s approval rating among Maryland Republicans is 75 percent.

Trone touts himself as an “independent thinker” whose business success demonstrates his ability to be a “change agent.” At the recent forum, sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, he stressed the importance of countering Trump.

“Have you ever seen a bigger circus than what we have in Congress?” he asked. “And the White House is the big tent.”

Trone’s campaign has depicted Hoeber as misleading voters about his campaign. “Shameful Lies,” reads one mailer, the words appearing over the image of the anti-Trone fliers in a garbage can. Jerid Kurtz, Trone’s campaign manager, said that Hoeber’s campaign set the tone by attacking Trone, and that his team was responding in kind.

“They’re desperate,” Kurtz said in an email.

In the race’s closing days, Trone’s campaign has circulated a 2016 video of a candidates forum at which Hoeber, who was running against Delaney, said she would support legislation to end birthright citizenship. Trump has said in recent days that he would like to make such a change by executive order, a move that most legal scholars say would be unconstitutional.

Asked for Hoeber’s position on ending birthright citizenship, Ellington said she “questions the constitutionality” of a president taking such action.

Arelis Hernández contributed to this report.