Lollar has become something of a tea party movement celebrity, and he’s attracting national attention in his long-shot bid against House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)
Must See! Charles Lollar in DC! Anti Obamacare Rally 4:15 Video
Tea party touts ‘Maryland miracle’
By Marin Cogan
On a Wednesday evening after classes in College Park, Md., a group of about 20 college Republicans mill about in the Thurgood Marshall Room of the student union, waiting for congressional hopeful Charles Lollar to make an appearance.
“It’s more of a support group than a club,” a senior majoring in government says, describing the University of Maryland’s conservative scene.
Lollar, a Marine Corps Reserve major running in the 5th District’s Republican primary, is a mix of conservative candidate (“Everybody can’t go to college. If all of us go to college, who is paying the tuition? If all of us work for government, who is paying the paychecks?”) and motivational speaker (“The only difference between someone very successful and someone not successful is that that person who is successful got up one more time.”).
But Lollar has one more unique attribute: He’s an African-American tea partier.
Lollar regales the college kids with the travails of his youth, nuggets of inspiration about America’s Jeffersonian democracy and a line about voter frustration that sounds oddly reminiscent of Barack Obama.
“Our country is greater than race relations that aren’t going the way they should be. They’re greater than partisan politics that are used to bicker and separate. They’re greater than this tea party versus Republican Party versus Democrat Party — that’s not our nation. Our nation is one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
If Lollar has no problem eliciting applause from a small cadre of Republican youth, it’s because he’s had a lot of practice. Lollar has become something of a tea party movement celebrity, and he’s attracting national attention in his long-shot bid against House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
His campaign said it will report more than $100,000 in first-quarter fundraising this week. His admirers said his race will be a good test of whether the energy and enthusiasm that motivate activists to march on Washington can be felt at the ballot box.
“Charles Lollar could be the Maryland miracle like Scott Brown was the Massachusetts miracle. That’s a possibility, and it’s very exciting,” said Audrey Scott, chairwoman of the Maryland GOP and the Republican candidate who faced Hoyer when he was first elected in 1981.
Brendan Steinhauser, a campaign operative who first recruited Lollar to speak at the Sept. 12 tea party rally in Washington, said Lollar’s candidacy is a positive development for a movement that lacks centralized political leaders.
“Leaders are going to emerge and run for Congress, and I think the movement in general wants that to happen,” said Steinhauser, the federal and state campaign director for FreedomWorks, a group that helps organize the tea party rallies. “We want to run candidates from the movement. Charles Lollar is a candidate who came from the movement, and we want to help build his profile,” he said.
Raised in a small town in Washington state, Lollar credits his parents for instilling in him conservative values. As a student, Lollar wanted to study cardiology but was drawn to the Marine Corps in his mid-20s after his wife became pregnant with their fourth child. After Sept. 11, 2001, Lollar felt drawn to politics.
In Maryland, he met Bruce Wesbury, chairman of the GOP’s central committee for Charles County. Wesbury recognized a potentially transformative figure in Lollar.
“Charles can inspire people. People are listening to him and going, ‘Holy smokes, this guy is fantastic,’ then they’re calling their friends and they’ve never been involved. So we get all of these people involved. … I hate to compare him to [President Barack] Obama, but, look, that’s what inspired people to get out and vote, and he ran one hell of a campaign.”
Lollar, a general manager at Cintas, is unabashed when it comes to addressing accusations of racism by the tea party movement’s opponents. “Can you believe that I have been accused of being a racist?” he asked the college Republicans. “Somebody once called me a racist. I looked at them and said, ‘My wife’s black — I can’t be!’” he joked to the crowd at a tea party rally in March.
Wesbury sees in Lollar’s candidacy an opportunity to draw to the party African-Americans, who make up about a third of the suburban Washington district, and other minorities.
“You cannot hide the fact that the Republican Party has done a poor job of trying to attract minorities to the party. We’re trying to get better at it. … He’s being smart. When an African-American Republican can look at Democrats and say, ‘Who are you calling racist?’ I think that’s a tremendous argument that Charles can carry forward. It’s been dynamite that the Democrats have used forever, and it couldn’t be further from the truth,” Wesbury says.
He’ll face Collins Bailey, an area businessman who ran against Hoyer in 2008, in the primary. And trying to compete with Hoyer’s fundraising juggernaut, in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one, is no easy task. At the end of last year, Hoyer had more than a million in cash on hand.
“There’s a lot of energy on both sides, and the Republicans have a vigorous primary ahead of them,” said Hoyer spokeswoman Lisa Bianco. “Congressman Hoyer will continue to reach out to constituents from all parties to discuss jobs, fiscal responsibility and the many other issues he has always championed.”
Lollar’s campaign manager, Mykel Harris, acknowledged that Lollar faces a “King James vs. the patriots” scenario.
“The patriot doesn’t want to get in a fight, but the patriot knows he’s got to give it all he’s got. He can’t come up short; he can’t lose because everything he’s got is hanging on that fight,” he said. “So the patriot is going to give 100 percent. It’s sort of like David and Goliath.”
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