Nia Banks has felt this way before. Two years ago, she supported Wes Moore in his historic run to become Maryland’s first Black governor. Now she feels that same energy with Angela Alsobrooks, the Prince George’s County executive who is seeking a seat in the U.S. Senate. If successful, Alsobrooks would be Maryland’s first Black senator, and the fifth Black woman to serve in the chamber.

For Banks, supporting the candidate is “not to create history.”

”It is to move history,” said the 49-year old plastic surgeon, who lives in Federal Hill, praising Alsobrooks’ willingness to protect women’s rights and support women-run businesses.

Black women voters have long been one of the most dependable voting blocks for Democrats, helping lift Biden to the presidency and flipping a Senate seat in Georgia in 2020 that shifted power to Democrats. In Maryland, one of the most diverse states in the country, Black women represent 16% of all people of voting age, and are expected to play a major role in Tuesday’s democratic Senate primary between Alsobrooks and her opponent, David Trone. Both campaigns acknowledge their importance.

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“Black women are the backbone of our party and frankly, our democracy,” Trone said in a statement.

Leading candidates for the U.S. Senate in Maryland in 2024 are, from left: U.S. Rep David Trone, a Democrat; former Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican; and Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks.
Leading candidates for the U.S. Senate in Maryland in 2024 are, from left: U.S. Rep David Trone, a Democrat; former Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican; and Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. (Photos by Taneen Momeni, Kaitlin Newman and Kylie Cooper)

In interviews, some Black women voters and officials lauded Alsobrooks as a champion for reproductive rights at a moment when conservatives have been emboldened by recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, and with the specter of a second Trump presidency looming. Others question whether she truly stands for progressive policies, and if she can beat the likely Republican candidate, former Governor Larry Hogan, with the balance of the Senate potentially at stake.

Breaking racial and gender barriers is highly important to Tammira Lucas, a 37-year-old White Marsh resident.

“I’m a mom of a soon-to-be 14-year-old girl, and I want her to understand there are many possibilities out there because a women like Angela is setting out to be the first to do something that wasn’t set up for us to even think of,” said Lucas, a CEO of a small business as well as an assistant professor at Coppin State University in the College of Business. “It also gives me hope.”

Tammira Lucas (courtesy of Tammira Lucas)

“Angela is a Black woman,” said Former United States Rep. Donna Edwards. “So one could say that that might be a natural appeal.”

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“Although, frankly, I found in the race that I ran in 2016, that that was — at least for Democrats and elected Democrats — not a big deal,” Edwards said of her unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate. “So I think that can cut in many different ways.”

Donna Edwards. (Eli Turner/Provided / Donna Edwards campaign)

Among other challenges Alsobrooks likely faces are misogyny and sexism, according to Michael K. Fauntroy, director of the Race, Politics, and Policy Center in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.

“We have a long and documented history of well-qualified Black candidates running statewide against white candidates, and not winning,” said Fauntroy, pointing to the 2006 Democratic primary race for U.S. Senate by former NAACP head Kweisi Mfume, who lost to then Rep. Ben Cardin.

Fauntroy also said “there are some voters who will think less favorably of her because she’s a woman or will think more favorably of him because he’s [Trone] a man. There may well still be some women who think that politics is ‘men’s business.’”

Alsobrooks has said she “juggles things that I know the men in these races don’t do, at all.”

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Like many of the Black women supporters of Alsobrooks interviewed, Del. Stephanie Smith, chair of the Baltimore City delegation representing District 45, stressed the importance of having a woman in the Senate that will fight for reproductive rights.

“I can’t paint a picture of how overwhelming and how frightening it will be to turn back the clock,” Smith said. “That is why it is important that we bring to Capitol Hill [someone ] that will fight for these issues — not from an academic perspective but from understanding what women have at stake if they don’t have control of their bodies.”

Del. Stephanie Smith. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Smith said she also has concerns about Trone’s financial support for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a conservative who has signed laws that restrict how teaching of current events and America’s history of racism in Texas schools, that target LGBTQ individuals, and that prohibit abortions as early as six weeks. Trone’s campaign said in a statement that, “our opponent has launched a series of dishonest attacks about David’s record and their allies have used a dark money group to air false ads attacking him.”

In March, Trone used a racial slur during a hearing. He later said it was unintentional.

“I don’t know where you access language like that if it doesn’t live within you,” Smith said.

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It wasn’t Trone’s only racially tinged misstep.

An ad, which was later edited, initially featured a supporter saying Alsobrooks needed training wheels. Then Trone drew ire after characterizing Prince George’s officials who backed Alsobrooks as “low level.”

A new Emerson College Polling/The Hill/DC News Now poll shows a hotly contested race with Alsobrooks winning 42% percent of the vote to Trone’s 41%, and her lead growing to a 3-point margin with those leaning toward a candidate, 47% to 44%. The same poll also showed Alsobrooks beating Trone among women voters, 43% to 38%, and among Black voters, 56% to 28%.

In 2022, a record number of Black women ran for and secured major-party Senate nominations, but none of them won, according to the report Black Women in American Politics 2023. Glynda Carr, president, CEO and co-founder of Higher Heights for America PAC, which wrote the report, has been closely monitoring the Senate race.

“Women and Black women should take note of the importance of this election. Maryland women voters are the sixth-most active group of women voters nationally,” said Carr, whose organization supports Black women running for office and has held fundraisers for Alsobrooks.

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Crime, the economy and health care are among the top issues for Maryland voters, according to a survey from Goucher College Poll and The Baltimore Banner in April.

Among the reasons some voters say they believe Trone is a stronger candidate against Hogan is his vast financial resources. The congressman, who founded Total Wine & More, has spent more than $57 million of his own money on his campaign.

But while Trone has proudly proclaimed that he has self-funded his campaign — which he says means he’s not beholden to any special interests groups or PACs — some Black women have attacked the very notion that one person is able to sway an election with their personal finances.

“I’m very concerned that a political race should not be bought. It’s scary to me,” said Banks. “I want the person who is representing me to relate to me. I want someone who can understand my life experiences. If you can self-fund your campaign, it’s hard for me to believe that you will answer to me.”

Nia Banks (courtesy of Nia Banks)

For Krystal Oriadha, a City Council member in Prince George’s County, Alsobrooks’ messaging conflicts with her record.

“If you are more moderate then be more moderate. I can appreciate that that’s the place where you reside on issues,” said Oriadha, who is featured in a Trone campaign advertisement. “But now, because when it’s Senate races or congressional races, the idea is to be more progressive, then that just conflicts with what I have seen.”

Hogan has beaten two candidates trying to make history before: Anthony Brown in 2014 and Ben Jealous in 2018. Both sought to be the state’s first Black governor before Moore. Hogan received 30% of the Democratic vote against Jealous, securing a double-digit victory, said Mileah Kromer, associate professor of political science and the director of the Sarah T. Hughes Center for Politics at Goucher College.

Polling earlier this year found that in a potential November matchup, 44% of respondents said they backed Hogan while 40% supported Alsobrooks, and 43% said they backed Hogan against 42% for Trone.

Edwards predicts a tight race, and thinks Trone offers the best chance to defeat Hogan.

“No matter how nice a guy Larry Hogan is or appears to be with voters, he would caucus with Republicans,” Edwards said. “He has been very uncommitted on his record on choice and abortion rights, and should there be a Donald Trump presidency, I think that he would align himself with the Republican party.”

Maryland State Sen. Jill P. Carter points to Trone’s stance on campaign finance, his approach to formerly incarcerated people, and his support of the state’s transportation needs for supporting him.

Carter said her decision to endorse a wealthy white man over a Black woman has not been easy.

“I am where I am, and where most of us are, is because of the struggle of Black people fighting for their right to vote, and building political will, so that we could be in the offices that we hold,” she said. “We absolutely need Black people and Black women in positions of leadership. It’s just that sometimes based on what our priorities are and where we are, it’s not always the defining deciding factor.”

Fauntroy, at George Mason University, said there doesn’t seem to be “substantial and profound” differences between Alsobrooks and Trone on most of the major issues.

It’s the Hogan challenge that will sway some voters.

“As a two-time winner,” Fauntroy said, “it’s fair to say that, at a minimum, he will be very formidable.”

Ramsey Archibald and Hallie Miller contributed to this report.

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