Alex Snitker was shadowboxing three men the other day — as usual, from a distance that would not get him arrested.
The Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate was standing with a microphone across the street from Orlando's ABC affiliate, where the three major candidates — Republican Marco Rubio, independent Charlie Crist and Democrat Kendrick Meek — were sparring in a live debate.
Outside, Snitker answered the same questions as the Big Three — only he had a volunteer watching the debate at home feed questions to him via cell phone.
"I will be at every debate," Snitker, 35, of Spring Hill, later declared, "whether I'm invited or not."
Even in this political moment that hails the "citizen candidate" over the "career politician," Snitker, the office supply salesman-turned-senatorial candidate, can't get much traction — no matter how much noise he makes.
He crashed a media-sponsored candidate forum to which he had not been invited. His campaign volunteers flooded pollster Rasmussen Reports with e-mails and calls after his name was excluded from polls. He puts out news releases that lambaste his opponents and peddle his own conventional wisdom, such as "Snitker is considered to be the most consistent Constitutional conservative in the race."
And with a few exceptions, silence follows.
Snitker blames the usual suspects — the mainstream media, the Republican/Democratic establishment, the pollsters — for his relative anonymity.
But he also wants to know why the tea party crowd flocked to Rubio and not him. And why won't Glenn Beck's producers put him on a show, anyway? And why does Bubba the Love Sponge — "Bubba's a Libertarian!" said Snitker — never take his calls?
"I really thought those guys would welcome me with open arms, and they have shunned us," Snitker said. "The one thing this campaign is going to show is … if you're a regular guy, you can't get into this thing no matter what."
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Snitker grew up in New Port Richey. His father is a retired machinist, and his mother works for the Pasco County Tax Collector's office. He graduated from Gulf High School in 1993, served in the U.S. Marines and later worked as a recruiter.
He married his high school sweetheart, Kelly, now a medical assistant at a dermatologist's office. They have a son, Michael, who turns 3 next month.
A few years ago he got a job in Orlando selling fax and copier machines to businesses. The Snitkers in 2007 bought a home outside Orlando, but had to short-sell last year after the bank began foreclosing. The couple had fallen behind on their $184,000 adjustable-rate mortgage. They now rent a home from relatives in Spring Hill.
"I blame myself more than anyone for that one," he said.
Politics? He never ran for anything before, not even student council in high school, but being a former Marine, he tried to pay attention. "I've always been an observer," he said, "but I would get frustrated because I never heard an answer to my questions."
Snitker said his run got its beginnings a couple of years ago when he spent hours yelling at the television news.
"I was going back and forth on every issue, almost debating myself," he recalled recently. "Little did I know I was building a platform at the same time."
His platform includes: abolishing the Internal Revenue Service and establishing an across-the-board "fair tax" on goods and services; making Social Security optional; setting term limits for Congress; abolishing other federal agencies, including the Department of Education.
"I guess being an anti-establishment guy I said, 'Okay, I'll pick the party that best represents me,' and I picked Libertarian."
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His wife, Kelly, had known he loved to talk politics. She calls him "the most honest and passionate person you'll ever meet." Still, she was surprised the day he came home and said he had something serious to tell her.
"I didn't know what he was getting into," she said. "I don't know if he did."
His father, Dennis, said he'd told his son to "go for it." He stenciled "Snitker" on the back of an old business sign and stuck it on his truck.
"I just told him, 'Be honest, don't lie, because it'll catch up with you,' " he said.
Snitker started picking up volunteers at various "9/12" meetings and through his website and Facebook pages. He has put more than 100,000 miles on his 2005 Saturn Ion driving to events around the state. He had raised nearly $25,000 through the last reporting period.
"We don't have a campaign headquarters," said volunteer media director Adrian Wyllie, who owns an IT consulting company. "We have a P.O. box."
Snitker, who resigned from his day job, has his fans.
"As far as I'm concerned, the big three candidates are absolutely mired in scandal," said Greg Bowen, a Libertarian and Snitker supporter from Clearwater. "We keep handing them power."
But while Snitker declares himself the ideal candidate for the tea party, many in that movement have rallied behind Rubio. One big reason? They want to win, said Sharon Calvert, president of Tampa tea party.
"From the Tampa tea party perspective, we're not endorsing third-party candidates. Down the road, we're not sure," Calvert said. "We look at this as a very critical election, and we want to get behind a candidate we feel can win."
Snitker insists he might have a chance if only more people knew about him. He touts political bloggers' predictions that he could get at least 5 percent of the vote. He makes a bold prediction: If he could participate in the televised debates, he'd win.
"I think people will go, 'You know what man? I'm going to vote for this guy,' " he said. "I firmly believe that."
Snitker's camp has tried to get Rubio's attention, but the front-runner ignores the questions they shout at him as he leaves events. Then last weekend, a ray of hope.
Snitker approached Crist at a Tampa candidates forum. He asked if Crist would support his inclusion in the upcoming debates. Crist, he said, replied: " 'Sure, we'd love to have you.' "
Maybe he was just being polite? No matter. Snitker's campaign released a new statement: "Crist Calls For Snitker's Inclusion In Debates."
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.