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Newburg businessman and former gubernatorial candidate Charles Lollar has re-entered the 2014 election scene following his nomination Monday by the Charles County Republican Central Committee as the party’s candidate in the District 1 race for county commissioner.

Lollar instantly becomes the most noteworthy Republican vying for any local office, and his nomination ensures the District 1 race will retain through Election Day the drama that it carried past the June 24 primary following a tight Democratic faceoff between Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) and former commissioner Sam Graves.

In a Tuesday interview, Graves conceded the nomination after the second and final canvas of absentee ballots Monday left him trailing Robinson by 61 votes, the same deficit he faced following the first absentee canvas June 26.

A U.S. Marine Corps reservist and the central committee’s former chairman, Lollar made a name for himself in state Republican circles as a charismatic conservative after running a spirited but unsuccessful campaign against U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) in 2010. He ran for governor this year but finished a distant third in the GOP primary behind nominee Larry Hogan and Harford County Executive David Craig.

Lollar could not be reached for comment, but his campaign manager, La Plata resident Chris Cherest, said the notion of Lollar entering the District 1 race arose in the moments after it became clear Lollar had lost his gubernatorial primary.

An associate member of the central committee, Cherest said he was speaking with committee member Joe Crawford the night of the primary when Crawford suggested Lollar run for commissioner.

Crawford’s son, 21-year-old newcomer J.T. Crawford, emerged from the primary victorious as the only GOP candidate for District 1 commissioner but “had serious misgivings” about continuing his campaign through the general election, Cherest said.

Cherest said he discussed the idea with Lollar, who spent a few hours mulling over the decision with his wife before jumping aboard. J.T. Crawford was “more than willing to step down,” particularly given that it was Lollar who would be taking his place, Cherest said.

J.T. Crawford officially withdrew from the race Monday, allowing the central committee to nominate Lollar in his stead.

“Charles had a very good game plan for Maryland that we feel would have worked well. Unfortunately, his message did not get out. He was not able to get himself heard, but we feel the same message that he was bringing to Maryland will work in Charles County, and this is a good proving ground to show that the message of fiscal responsibility, lower taxes and less intrusive government will be a boon to Charles County,” Cherest said. “Accountability within the political realm is woefully lacking, and we feel Charles being the person that he is brings that to Charles County more than anyone else.”

Lollar’s nomination has “absolutely” injected newfound enthusiasm within the county’s Republican ranks, central committee Chairman Collins Bailey said.

“We believe his message of individual freedom, lower taxes and respect for all people will be a great message, so we’re excited,” Bailey said. “Everybody is looking forward to the prospects of taking this county forward.”

Lollar figures to present a far stiffer challenge to Robinson than the novice Crawford, but the incumbent feels good about his prospects given the voter demographics in the county, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1.

“I’m sure it will be a spirited campaign. Mr. Lollar is very charismatic. He’s an excellent orator. But I also feel that Charles County is a very progressive Democratic county, and I feel confident that I will win the election,” Robinson said. “But I take Mr. Lollar very seriously, as I would any opponent. I’m somebody who takes nothing for granted, so our plan was to always run an aggressive general election campaign, and that has not changed. Like my primary campaign, I think it’s going to come down to the issues, and I have no doubt that Mr. Lollar and I will have very different visions for the future of the county, which will provide the voters a very clear choice.”

Following “an exhausting primary campaign,” Robinson said he plans to take the summer off prior to kicking off his general election campaign around Labor Day.

“I’m going to enjoy everything that Charles County has to offer during the summer,” he said.

In conceding the Democratic nomination, Graves said he would not petition for a recount or run in the general election as a write-in candidate.

“I have all the faith in the board of elections and their ability to run a clean and fair election,” he said. “I am going to move on with my life, and I will continue to keep serving my community through all the nonprofit work I have been doing for the last 15 to 20 years.”

Graves knew immediately following his defeat to Robinson in 2010 primary that he wanted to try again in 2014. Though he admitted not feeling the same fire to run in 2018, Graves said he is “not shutting any doors.”

“I’d like to thank my family, my campaign and my thousands of supporters and well wishers for the support they’ve given me over the years,” he said. “I wish the winners in November all the best and hope and pray that they stay focused on the wishes and needs of the citizens of Charles County.”

Robinson ended primary night up by 85 votes, but Graves cut that lead down to 61 following the first absentee canvas. Robinson gained back one vote from Graves in the July 2 canvas of provisional ballots, but Graves took it right back in Monday’s count.

The Charles County Board of Elections counted 441 total votes in the District 1 primary during the three canvasses. Robinson finished with 7,289 total votes, or 50.2 percent of those cast in the race, while Graves received 7,228 votes, or 49.8 percent.

“I pretty much felt despite its closeness that I had won on primary night because statistically speaking, it’s would have been generally, albeit not impossible with the lead I had on election night, for Mr. Graves to beat me,” Robinson said. “Our race made it quite clear that every vote counted, so I’m very appreciative of the tremendous support that I had and have, and I felt the race run between myself and Mr. Graves was very civil. We disagreed on the issues, and I think we kept it to the issues, and it never became personal, and I thank him for his service to the county.”

jnewman@somdnews.com