Lollar woos Republicans by appealing to Democrats

Conservative activist and gifted speaker pitches himself as best chance to win in November

  • Charles Lollar speaks during the taped debate this afternoon.
Charles Lollar speaks during the taped debate this afternoon. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
June 12, 2014|By Erin Cox, The Baltimore Sun

Fourth in a series of profiles of candidates for governor.

Charles Lollar was at it again last week, the only Republican on stage with the three Democrats running for governor, wooing a crowd largely unable to cast a vote in the fast-approaching GOP primary.

His Republican rivals skipped the event at a Silver Spring church, but as he has done throughout the campaign, Lollar focused on charming voters in a Democratic stronghold. The ordained preacher and former tea party activist spreads a spirited message about rising above partisanship.

"We can't even talk about solutions for our state when we're not able to see past party politics," he said.

Lollar fits a profile coveted by Republican operatives seeking inroads in states dominated by Democrats: charisma, an African-American heritage, a military background as a Marine reservist, and business experience.

Polling puts him, at best, tied for second in the GOP primary race, but Lollar has been unrelenting in his strategy. He says he can win over Republicans by positioning himself as the most likely candidate to beat a Democrat in November.

"We continue to convince the Republican primary voters that we are the best bet," he said.

Lollar's passionate discussions of freedom, living the dream of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and rolling back nearly every tax in Maryland has attracted a small but devoted following among conservatives.

"He's a very gifted guy. He has a unique ability to stand up and give a speech off the cuff that's logical, makes specific points, with personal examples that really touch people," said Anne Arundel County Councilman Jerry Walker, Lollar's friend and supporter. "He's got a compelling way about the way he speaks. People are drawn to him and want to hear what he has to say."

Lollar won the straw poll of GOP activists at the Maryland Republican Party's convention in April even though he was polling in the single digits at the time, had raised little money and had been written off by some pundits.

As Lollar points out, that motivated base could make a difference in the June 24 primary. Analysts say that with a low turnout and so many undecided voters, an upset could be in the making. A motivated group of voters could tip the scales the way Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was defeated in Virginia's primary this week.

Lollar says he expects national money to pour into Maryland to help him beat a Democrat in November. He has started laying the groundwork for that race.

Before a crowd of several hundred African-Americans at a Baltimore church in May, Lollar was again the sole Republican to show up. The coalition of community groups asked the candidates how they would deliver on several Democratic ideals: a higher minimum wage, better housing, more opportunities for ex-offenders and paid sick leave for all workers. None of those issues matched Lollar's platform, but he was undeterred.

"I'm running because I'm tired of your vote being taken for granted," he said. In the cadence of a pastor leading his flock, Lollar promised that his economic plan — which would eliminate the income tax, roll back the sales tax, end the estate tax and lower the corporate income tax — would promote such prosperity that businesses would voluntarily do the right thing and give workers paid time off.

"You all have the opportunity to change the way things are done in Annapolis for a very long time," he said, receiving some of the loudest applause of the night.

He says he would advocate to reinstate the death penalty in Maryland, bar most abortions after 20 weeks and undo the sweeping gun-control law passed last year. Lollar is against legalizing marijuana and has criticized its use to treat pain.

He opposed the state's recent increase in the minimum wage. He supports school vouchers, voter identification laws and the natural gas extraction process known as fracking.

All of these, he says, are not partisan solutions to Maryland's woes.

"Elimination of the personal income tax is not a partisan issue. It's a way to give people their money back," Lollar said.

Lollar has run his operation on a shoestring budget that has burned through at least two campaign managers. He did not raise enough money to qualify for public financing. In a filing last month, the campaign reported having a mere $18,000, but the bank froze the account because of a $20,000 judgment against it. Lollar lost a lawsuit filed by a political database company that alleged the campaign reneged on a contract.

Lollar said it was a misunderstanding and that the campaign recently offered the company a settlement in order to move forward.

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