The Maryland attorney general’s race has become a referendum on the anti-Trump resistance: Democratic incumbent Brian E. Frosh touts his success suing the administration over issues including the president’s travel ban and his rollback of environmental regulations, while Republican challenger Craig Wolf says such lawsuits are a waste of tax dollars and outside Frosh’s job description.
In deep-blue Maryland, where Trump won just 34 percent of the vote in 2016, the resistance seems to be winning.
A recent Goucher College poll shows Frosh, a former state senator and delegate, with a 32-point lead over Wolf, a former prosecutor who was moved to join the Army Reserve after the 9/11 attacks and is now running his first statewide campaign.
Frosh’s lawsuits have helped make him “a progressive hero,” said Goucher political science professor Mileah Kromer, who conducted the poll. She said the Democrat has drawn “a direct line” between his office and Trump “in a time when people in Maryland want to see that resistance.”
That anti-Trump fervor does not appear to be affecting the governor’s race, with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan — who has distanced himself from the president — far ahead of Democrat Ben Jealous.
But Frosh, a soft-spoken man who seems more enthusiastic talking about his caseload than his political campaign, is earning standing ovations and adulations from Democrats eager to strike any possible blow against the White House.
“I’m doing a job I didn’t run for,” he told a packed audience at a rally for Democrats in Rockville earlier this month. “I’m protecting our state and everyone in it from what is going on in Washington.”
When Frosh left the stage, a steady stream of people approached him to thank him for his work since taking office in 2015. Bethesda resident Ed Levien called Frosh “the first attorney general in my lifetime who has taken his job to heart. . . . His lawsuits have not been to gain notoriety, but for the citizens.”
Wolf, 55, who has been endorsed by Hogan and frequently compares himself to the popular governor, sees it differently. “We already send eight congressmen to Washington,” he said in an interview. “The attorney general needs to be focused on what is happening here in Maryland.”
Frosh, 71, has lived in Montgomery County all of his life, except for college and law school. He opened a private law practice in 1976, and he earned a reputation during his 28 years in the General Assembly as a collegial and effective legislator.
In 2013, during what he has described as one of his proudest legislative achievements, the bespectacled lawmaker led the charge to ban assault weapons in Maryland following the deadly shooting of 20 children in Newtown, Conn. Frosh, who chaired of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee for 12 years, also helped shepherd the state’s repeal of the death penalty and the passage of same-sex marriage.
He described Trump’s election as sending a “shock wave” through the country and said he realized after the president’s early decision to sign an executive order halting travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries that he would have to take legal action.
He asked Hogan for permission to sue Trump and said he “heard nothing.” So Frosh asked the General Assembly to act. Within two weeks, it passed a resolution, the Maryland Defense Act, giving Frosh the autonomy to sue the president.
Since then, he has filed more than 20 lawsuits against the Trump administration, which he says are necessary to protect Marylanders who could be harmed by new federal policies.
“I don’t file lawsuits based on politics — I am doing what I think is in the best interests of our people and our state,” he said.
His most well-known lawsuit, filed last summer with D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine, alleges that Trump is violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution by continuing to do business with foreign governments. This summer, a federal judge rejected Trump’s effort to stop the lawsuit, allowing the case to proceed.
Frosh has also sued Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over the suspension of an Obama-era regulation that protects college students from excessive debt; tackled the rollback of regulations on vehicle emissions; and challenged the legality of ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
On the state level, his office has pursued efforts to shut down pill mills, indict gang members and close a nursing home chain that was “patient dumping,” or getting rid of patients who, for financial or mental-health reasons, are difficult to treat.
Frosh has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the cases his office handles — expounding at length, for example, on his efforts to prove the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and stop the federal government from dismantling it.
“When I ran for attorney general four years ago, I told you I was running because I wanted to be the people’s lawyer,” Frosh said at the Rockville event. “I have done a lot of things to fill that role.”
Maryland, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1, has not elected a Republican attorney general since 1918. Frosh has built a large network of supporters during his decades in office and had $1.2 million in the bank in August, compared with Wolf’s $160,000.
But the fundraising disparity has not kept Wolf from campaigning enthusiastically throughout the state.
“Craig Wolf is out there working hard — I see him everywhere we go,” Hogan said with a smile as he greeted Wolf at a parade in Poolesville earlier this month.
During the parade, Wolf talked strategy with volunteers and jogged up and down, shaking hands and giving high-fives to kids.
A lifelong Republican, he said he thinks Democrats in Maryland “have swung so far to the left that they’re missing the whole middle of the electorate. ” He declined to say whether he voted for Trump in 2016.
Wolf points to his endorsement from the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police, which backed Frosh in 2014, as evidence his campaign has traction.
If elected, Wolf said, he would sit down and have staff explain the legal basis for every pending lawsuit and its cost.
He said he would begin increasing transparency in the attorney general’s office by revamping its website, and he would emphasize the importance of customer service, which he said has been lacking under Frosh.
The race is Wolf’s first run for statewide office. He was raised by a single mother in Pikesville and began his career in the state’s attorney’s office in Allegany County, in Western Maryland, in the 1990s.
Allegany State’s Attorney Michael O. Twigg (R), who was an intern under Wolf, describes him as “an aggressive and gifted prosecutor.”
Wolf worked from 1995 until 1998 as a prosector in the criminal division of the U.S. Department of Justice, where he said he prosecuted some of the first online child-pornography cases and managed an investigation of human trafficking from Thailand.
He then joined Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, a national trade organization, as general counsel, eventually becoming president and chief executive. He stepped down in June, after 18 years with the organization, to campaign full time.
In the Army Reserve, Wolf has served as a defense counsel, prosecutor and defense law attorney. In 2011, he deployed to Afghanistan for seven months. He serves as an international law officer with a brigade in Riverdale, Md.
Wolf said with a laugh that his first task when he began considering a run for office was persuading his wife, Sally, a lifelong Democrat, to vote for him. He succeeded. As a result, he said, this election will be the first time they don’t cancel out each other’s votes.
“That’s our shtick,” Sally Wolf said with a smile at the parade, sporting a “Craig Wolf for Attorney General” T-shirt and handing out stickers with her best friend from first grade.
“I wish the attorney general position wasn’t political,” she said as her husband bounded ahead to meet Hogan’s bus. “Craig is hugely qualified, and he doesn’t do anything unless he’s giving 105 percent effort.”
Campaigning with a wide smile, Wolf promised voters that he would focus on the day-to-day issues Marylanders face.
“He’s all about politics, and I’m all about getting things done,” Wolf said of Frosh.
Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), who served nine years with Frosh in the Maryland Senate, said, “Nobody is going to buy for a second the idea that Brian Frosh is not a champion for the consumers and the taxpayers and citizens of Maryland.”
Aisha Braveboy, who ran against Frosh in the 2014 Democratic primary for attorney general, said Marylanders “trust him” — especially in a turbulent political environment.
“We are in unprecedented times” she said.