Suburbs Flex Power as Cities Like Baltimore Lose Political Clout

  • Cardin retirement could end decades of Baltimoreans in Senate
  • As suburbs get more diverse, long-time Democratic bases shift

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Baltimore has long been the powerhouse of Maryland Democratic politics, home to prominent figures such as retiring Sen. Ben Cardin and the late father and brother of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who both served as the city’s mayor.

The leading candidates to replace Cardin next year, though, reside south of the aging industrial aging city, in the booming and increasingly diverse counties that abut Washington D.C.

Shifting demographics increasingly have made the suburbs a focus in presidential and statewide races across the nation. For instance, in a Brookings Institution paper, demographer William Frey gives a diverse coalition of suburban voters credit for President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory margin.

In the 2024 campaign cycle, the political importance of suburbia is on display in Maryland, where candidates from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties will dominate the primaries in the overwhelmingly Democratic state.

“It used to be thought of as Baltimore City being the official pockets and base of the Democratic Party in the state,” said Ray Glendening, a political strategist now with Firehouse Strategies and the son of former Democratic Gov. Parris Glendening. “Now, I would without a doubt want to be from Prince George’s or Montgomery County if I was putting together the ideal candidate to run for a statewide race.”

The growing political prominence of the suburbs in Democratic politics comes as communities closest to city lines increasingly attract minority residents, said Karyn Lacy of the University of Michigan, who researches suburban demographics with a recent focus on Maryland.

“The racial composition of suburbs has changed so much over time,” Lacy said. “But that image of the suburbs as white and middle class has a lot of staying power.”

One of the top contenders for the Maryland Senate seat is Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. Another, Rep. David Trone (D), lives in Montgomery County and represents a district that stretches from the Washington suburbs to the rural western region of the state. Progressive candidate Will Jawando also is from Montgomery County.

No candidate has yet to announce from the Baltimore area, either the city or county.

(Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) shown at a July 24 press conference. Alsobrooks is running to replace the retiring Cardin.

Black residents now make up 59% of Prince George’s County, surpassing the percentage of Black residents in the city of Baltimore, according to the 2020 census figures. Montgomery County, which long had a reputation as an affluent largely white suburb, is now 41% white, with Black and Hispanic populations increasing .

Prince George’s and Montgomery grew by a combined 190,000 residents between 2010 and 2020, according to the US Census. “There’s just a ton of voters there and it’s almost entirely Democratic,” Glendening said.

Recent races in Maryland back that up. In the 2022 gubernatorial primary, a combined 40% of the vote came out of Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, while 27% came from the city of Baltimore and the surrounding county.

Not Bypassing Baltimore

Alsobrooks, who if elected would be Maryland’s first Black Senator, received an early endorsement from Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who represents Baltimore in the House and ran for the Senate against Cardin in 2006.

A former prosecutor, Alsobrooks went to law school in Baltimore.

“I feel very well prepared to represent the families of Baltimore City and beyond because their families are having the same issues as the families that I have represented now for more than two decades,” she said, saying voters in both the city and the suburbs are concerned about housing, economic opportunity, health care, and addiction.

Trone noted his financial connections with the Baltimore area. He said that one of his Total Wine & More franchises — the business that made him a multi-millionaire — has been open in the Baltimore suburb of Towson for more than 25 years.

“Baltimore is the engine of the state,” said Trone. “Baltimore is where you have to keep our focus; it’s the town that needs the most help.”

He also pointed out that as a House appropriator he has helped direct funds to Baltimore, and said that Cardin is correct when he says that “everything begins in Baltimore’s success.”

US Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) shown in a campaign video.

Montgomery County Councilmember Jawando, who’s trailing Trone and Alsobrooks in money and name recognition, said he has mapped out plans for campaigning in Baltimore, where his father lived for two decades.

“The residents in Baltimore County and Owings Mills, they want the same thing that I talked to my residents here,” said Jawando. “They want to be able to buy a house and retire with dignity, and have a good school and a safe neighborhood.”

Cardin, who has been in the Senate since 2006, said he doesn’t currently plan to endorse in the race, but hopes the candidates keep Baltimore in mind.

“I think the concerns for Baltimore need to be part of this campaign,” Cardin said in an interview. “It can be done without a Baltimore candidate, but clearly the commitment to Baltimore from the next senator is going to be important.”

— With assistance from Greg Giroux.

To contact the reporter on this story: Amelia Davidson in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bennett Roth at

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