The top Democratic contenders for Maryland’s open U.S. Senate seat faced off, trading barbs about their fundraising, positions and experiences before a crowd of several hundred people on Saturday afternoon.

It was the first time in months that the front-runners, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks and U.S. Rep. David Trone, shared a stage in the highly competitive race.

They found common ground on just one point: the need for Democrats to defeat Republican candidate Larry Hogan and his party in the general election.

Each of them, as expected, declared that they’re the best choice to beat the former governor, who made a surprise entrance into the race on the filing deadline. Hogan’s candidacy upended the Democrats’ strategies, and they immediately began focusing nearly as much on him as on each other.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Polls show we can beat Larry. We have the resources; we have the record,” said Trone, a self-funded candidate who boasts about working in a bipartisan manner in Congress.

At another point, Trone declared: “I could take Larry Hogan, no doubt about it.”

Alsobrooks said Hogan is a threat because he will vote with Republicans against women’s rights, voting rights and other Democratic priorities.

“If we allow Larry Hogan to be elected — which we will not — you best believe he will be voting with Mitch McConnell,” Alsobrooks said, referring to the Senate Republican leader who boasted about recruiting Hogan to the race.

She also warned: “Larry Hogan would be a vote with the Republicans. Do not be confused about that.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

U.S. Rep. David Trone speaks as Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks listens during Saturday’s forum. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

On many policy areas, Trone and Alsobrooks explained similar policy positions in response to questions from moderator Jennifer Rubin, a Washington Post columnist.

They offered support for increasing the federal minimum wage, enacting national law to protect access to abortion, supporting public schools and educators, and fighting to bring transportation funding to Maryland.

But they also hammered each other on differences.

On the death penalty, for example, Alsobrooks said that while she sought the death penalty when she was a prosecutor, she respects that Maryland later outlawed capital punishment. Alsobrooks added, though, that some violent perpetrators, particularly those who kill children, deserve the harshest penalty possible.”

Trone responded: “I believe, after all that, that you have supported the death penalty, and you do in some cases moving forward.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Trone said he doesn’t support the death penalty at the state or federal level. “Never have, never will,” he said.

When Alsobrooks was given a chance to respond, she fired back: “Mr. Trone, I can understand it. He’s never had to keep any community safe. It’s never been his role or responsibility. ... I have had to do that, which means I’ve had to make tough decisions.”

Alsobrooks added that she does not support the death penalty in Maryland — “the people of Maryland have spoken,” she said — and would not support it on the federal level, either.

The pair also had exchanges about campaign fundraising. Trone, who has spent tens of millions of his own money on his campaign, charged that candidates who accept money from big donors and political action committees may be compromised.

Alsobrooks called Trone “a one-man super PAC” and said it’s comical that he’s spending “$50 million to try and buy this race.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“He doesn’t give to PACs; he is the PAC,” Alsobrooks said.

She noted Trone and his company, Total Wine & More, have donated to Republican candidates, including those who oppose abortion. Trone responded that it was important to make those donations in certain states to benefit his business and people who work for him.

Trone said he was not born wealthy and recalled the oft-repeated story of his family’s farm going bankrupt and his efforts to build his retail liquor business.

“The fact that I became wealthy, I won’t apologize for that,” Trone said, noting he could hoard his wealth in his family, but he’d rather use it to try to make the country a better place.

Candidates for U.S. Senate participate in a forum at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

The forum, sponsored by several Democratic groups in Montgomery County, featured five other candidates who have little name recognition. Some of them struggled to answer basic policy questions.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“I don’t really have a lot to say on this topic,” candidate Steven Seuferer said when asked about transportation funding. “It’s just not something that I’ve really considered, and I do apologize.”

Andrew Wildman, likewise, had no answer on transportation and instead used his time to talk about how abortion should be legal in all circumstances only in the first trimester of a pregnancy.

While most candidates sipped water between their answers, Brian Frydenborg, at one point, squeezed honey from a plastic bottle.

To accommodate the large number of candidates, organizers arranged for Trone and Alsobrooks to answer every question. Rubin rotated among the other candidates, allowing two of them to answer each question.

Several hundred people packed into an auditorium at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, and at times the audience struggled to follow the rules not to cheer or applaud. Outside the school, volunteers with the Trone and Alsobrooks teams waved campaign signs.

A few people outside protested about the war in Gaza, with one person waving a large Palestinian flag. One person thrust flyers about Trone’s donations to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Pro-Palestine protesters chant outside Montgomery Blair High School ahead of a forum with U.S. Senate candidates in Silver Spring. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

The forum was peppered with shouts from the audience, some generally advocating for a ceasefire in Gaza and some specifically criticizing Trone for his AIPAC donations.

Twice the forum was halted while police escorted out audience members who would not stop yelling. One woman held up a phone in a pink case and shouted “Full ceasefire! Defund Israel!” as police led her out of the auditorium.

Both Trone and Alsobrooks have called for a ceasefire in Gaza, the release of hostages, improved humanitarian aid and a long-term process toward peace in the region.

The U.S. Senate seat is open this election after longtime U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat, announced that he wouldn’t seek reelection. Maryland’s electorate is dominated by Democratic voters, and the state hasn’t sent a Republican to the U.S. Senate in decades. Hogan’s candidacy, however, has put Democrats on edge because of his popularity and past success winning two statewide elections for governor.

Voting in the primary election opens with early voting May 2, with traditional Election Day voting on May 14.

Pamela Wood covers Maryland politics and government. She previously reported for The Baltimore Sun, The Capital and other Maryland newspapers. A graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, she lives in northern Anne Arundel County.

More From The Banner