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Fraser Smith: Charles Lollar searches for a Massachusetts Miracle

Charles Lollar wants to give Nevada Sen. Harry Reid some company on his way to the unemployment line.

The Republican candidate for Congress in Maryland’s 5th District says he’s about to defeat Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the incumbent Democrat who also happens to be the majority leader in the House of Representatives.

Lollar thinks he can pull off the equivalent of the Massachusetts Miracle when Scott Brown brought the tea party to political significance earlier this year by winning the Senate seat previously held by the late Ted Kennedy.

He would accomplish a similarly seismic feat if he unseated Hoyer. Lollar says he’s seen polling figures that have him within 10 points of Hoyer. Candidates always make such claims, but no such polls have been made public.

But Hoyer has not been napping. Months ago, seeing what was happening with the tea party elsewhere, the congressman and his allies began to campaign with some urgency.

“He’s been all over this [district] like a cheap suit,” said one longtime political figure.

The huge margins Hoyer has customarily rolled up will probably be narrowed this year, but where will Lollar go for the kind of massive vote he’ll need to prevail? The political figure said he sees no indication that national Republican leaders regard the race as winnable.

A Maryland Democrat had a good chuckle when told that Hoyer’s team appeared to be ducking coverage of the race — ducking to avoid any suggestion that there was a race. (He seemed to enjoy the nervousness of someone not heretofore challenged.)

Not until late this week — and after deadline for this column — did Hoyer’s press operatives make their man available while he campaigns. And little has been written about his race because much of the national press is focusing on other ranking Democrats in trouble — Reid in particular.

Hoyer’s campaign staff says he’s been traveling on behalf of other candidates — something he’s been freer to do in other years because there was no threat to his re-election.

The year of the tea party

This year, the year of the tea party, seems to have changed things.

Lollar may be a tea party candidate made in political heaven. He’s an ex-Marine. He’s a businessman. And he’s African-American in a heavily black district. He’s a walking rebuttal to those who say the party is simply angry that a black man is in the White House and that white Americans are careening toward minority status.

In a brief interview at the New Carrollton Library this week, Lollar disavowed an official link to the tea party or to the GOP for that matter.

“I’m not a Republican,” he said, instead calling himself a “Marine who happens to be a conservative.”

At the same time, he hit all the tea party notes when he spoke.

He wants to beat back cap and trade, the process that would allow polluters to sell pollution credits if they exceed their pollution reduction goals.

He wants to help repeal the Obama Administration’s health care plan.

He wants to make the Constitution the arbiter of virtually everything.

He readily acknowledged running in a political atmosphere made more hospitable to black candidates by President Barack Obama’s victor in 2008. At the same time, he holds Obama responsible for policies he condemns and for breaking promises to the people.

“… If you get elected you have to make sure you do the things you said you were going to do and not abandon the things you ran on,” he said.

Is the Constitution in danger?

He says he decided to run for many reasons — protecting the Constitution first and foremost. Why did he think the Constitution was in danger?

”Oh, man, the bills. The cap and trade bill, excessive taxes on citizens. the health care bill that really looks to take over health care. … There’s no constitutional ground for that to happen,” he said.

Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary’s College, says he has no real measure of Lollar’s strength, but he says Hoyer has been more visible in the district than ever. The two candidates have met in three candidate forums.

Lollar’s campaign workers preceded him to the New Carrollton Library on Riverdale Road on Monday evening. They arrived with chocolate chip cookies and shrink-wrap packages of bottled water. They rearranged the gray plastic chairs in the library basement. They unfurled the U.S. flag they brought, and they hung a Lollar for Congress banner.

“It’s going to be an explosive week for us,” Lollar said.

If he wins, it surely will be.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst at WYPR-FM. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. His e-mail address is fsmith@wypr.org.