- Associated Press - Friday, March 7, 2014

DUNEDIN, Fla. (AP) - Lucas Overby sits in the lobby of a retirement condominium on the Gulf of Mexico, surrounded by a dozen senior citizens, all old enough to be his grandparents. He’s running for Congress, and every vote counts when there’s only a handful of days before Tuesday’s special election.

“You look a lot younger here than you do on television,” one man said, and everyone, including Overby, laughs.

Overby knows that he stands out in more ways than one. There’s his age: 27 (his opponents are 41 and 65). There’s his profession: commercial diver (his opponents are a lobbyist and former bank vice president).

And there’s his political party. Overby is a Libertarian.

The majority of the attention focused on Florida’s 13th Congressional District race has focused on Alex Sink, the Democrat, and David Jolly, the Republican. The contest has garnered national scrutiny for several reasons including that it’s the first time since the early 1970s that someone other than the incumbent, C.W. Bill Young - who died in October - has run. Also the district is considered a tossup between the two major political parties. Both Democrats and Republicans are road-testing strategies in this race, in hopes of figuring out what will work in campaigns across the country during November’s midterm elections.

So far, the number of mail-in ballots in the race has been enormous for a special election. As of Thursday night, more than 112,000 mail-in ballots have been returned. Forty-two percent of the ballots returned have come from registered Republicans, 39 percent from Democrats and 19 percent from other political parties.

It’s clear that the final tally will be close, and Overby could affect the outcome.

Overby thinks that some of those ballots are from residents he’s targeted, folks who don’t normally vote at all.

Overby has received 4 to 7 percent in recent polls, and 12 percent in one poll.

“I think we’re causing a lot of panic in my opponents,” Overby said, adding that he doesn’t believe he will be a spoiler and thinks he has a legitimate chance of winning.

Political experts, however, don’t think he has a chance, but acknowledge that he will siphon votes away from the two main candidates - possibly more from Jolly by drawing Republicans who desire smaller government or who don’t like voting for a lobbyist.

“Initially I thought he would hurt Jolly,” said Anthony Brunello, a political science professor at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg.

Brunello noted that Overby could also take votes away from Sink because of his socially liberal stance on issues such as staying out of foreign conflicts and legalizing gay marriage and marijuana. He said Overby could simultaneously draw votes from the far left and the far right.

“You’re seeing what I call the new column of Libertarianism in America,” said Brunello. “It’s a different voice, a different face.”

Overby does tout some traditional, Libertarian values. He told the senior citizens that in a “Libertarian utopia” there would be no government at all - but is more pragmatic in this race.

“I lean more toward community than individualism,” one elderly woman said.

Overby, holding a Monster energy drink, nodded. “I’m actually more on your side,” he said. “I’m what’s considered a Left-atarian, a community-leaning Libertarian.”

Overby went on to explain that if elected, his legislative agenda would focus on waste and fraud in government contracting and budgetary issues.

“We’re not looking at hacking out whole programs,” he said.

One of the seniors who showed up to hear Overby was intrigued.

“I don’t agree with him about everything, but he gave pretty good answers,” said 68-year-old Don Morris, adding that he hasn’t voted yet and would consider voting for either Jolly or Overby, but not Sink.

Said 86-year-old Cliff Bailey, “I liked his ideas about not interfering with other nations. We can’t police the world.”

Bailey said he wouldn’t vote for Overby because he thinks Sink will “be more effective in Washington.”

“I admire this young man for getting out and trying to make a difference, though,” Bailey said. “He gets my respect.”

Overby said that he’s “broken through the glass ceiling” that third-party candidates have traditionally had in the Tampa Bay area, and is pleased, and possibly a bit surprised, that he’s been treated like an equal in debates and forums.

He said he’s raised about $45,000, compared to Sink’s $2.5 million and Jolly’s $1 million.

Longtime state legislator Mike Fasano - who is now the elected tax collector in neighboring Pasco County - has watched Overby’s candidacy with interest.

“I’m very happy to see that the third-party candidate has gotten equal time,” Fasano said. “I can’t recall any third-party candidate getting this kind of attention.”

Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at https://twitter.com/tamaralush

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