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Angela Alsobrooks' primary win for Maryland Senate seat set polling data on fire

Despite being significantly outspent, Alsobrooks defeated her Democratic primary opponent by a wide margin. There are lessons here.

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On Tuesday, the Maryland primary contest to be the Democratic candidate for Senate ended with Angela Alsobrooks being named the nominee over her uber-rich opponent, Rep. David Trone. That has set the stage for a potentially history-making run by Alsobrooks, who would be Maryland’s first Black senator if she’s elected this fall. 

Here are some of my takeaways from Tuesday’s race. 

Money isn’t everything

Trone, the billionaire founder of the retail chain Total Wine, plunged more than $60 million of his own fortune into his campaign, far outspending Alsobrooks. Trone had even suggested that his deep pockets would be a boon for Democrats were he the nominee, because it would mean they could spend money on key races in other states. But money isn’t everything, and Trone has shown that even well-heeled campaigns can falter when their candidate lacks a coherent case to make to voters. It also helped that high-profile Maryland Democrats teamed up like the Avengers to boost Alsobrooks. 

Relatability wins

Trone showed he was gaffe-prone, most notably when he accidentally uttered a racist slur on the campaign trail. A comment he gave NBC News before polls closed on Tuesday, suggesting that his rough-and-tumble upbringing and his family’s history with alcoholism might help him relate to Black voters, may not have influenced the results in and of itself. But it epitomized a candidate who struggled to connect with voters throughout Maryland, one of the Blackest states in the country. 

The only polls that matter are the ones on Election Day 

No major poll leading into Tuesday’s primary race predicted Alsobrooks’ convincing margin of victory. Multiple polls showed the race in a dead heat, and a few even had Trone with a lead (which seemed to cause a lot of liberal hand-wringing). But the results show concerns about Trone-mentum were overblown. Poll numbers have always had the power to distort public perception of outcomes, and Maryland’s Democratic Senate primary showed again how problematic data can be in analysts' attempts to gauge voter preferences. Alsobrooks’ primary win also affirmed an old political adage: The only polls that matter are the ones that open on Election Day.