Clearwater resident Lucas Overby likes to say he's a U.S. congressional candidate because he never made it as a rock star.
At 27, the husband and father has ditched the mohawk from his band days, but still shows off more than a handful of tattoos. Overby, a Libertarian, will likely add one to his collection after he faces off against Democrat Alex Sink and Republican David Jolly in the March 11 special election to fill the late C.W. Bill Young's seat.
"It's fun to be able to look back on the road map of your life," he said. "Win or lose, I'm going to get something to commemorate."
The son of a commercial diver and homemaker, this is Overby's first run for office. A commercial diver himself and a 2004 graduate of Lakewood High School, Overby studied at Florida Atlantic University and St. Petersburg College, but did not graduate from either institution.
He faces a different set of challenges from his well-funded opponents, not the least of which is answering basic questions about his party.
He joined the Libertarian Party of Florida at age 17 as part of a high school civics project. Overby was drawn to its goal to reduce the federal government's power over states and individual liberty. Libertarians generally favor federal government's involvement in granting civil rights like marriage equality, which Overby supports.
Overby calls himself a pragmatic Libertarian, which means in Congress he would consider party ideals without strictly adhering to them. For example, although he wants to eliminate the income tax, he acknowledged that isn't likely to happen any time soon. There's a range of Libertarian beliefs from pragmatists to hardliners, some of whom oppose federal involvement even in maintaining traffic laws and voting.
"It's inappropriate to assume that we can stamp one overall solution to something and go, 'It's either this or nothing,' " Overby said, referring to strategies other Libertarians have used. "Usually we get nothing."
Libertarians are a "potent force" even if they don't garner many votes at the polls, said Darryl Paulson, professor emeritus of government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
"Just a few years ago, the Libertarians ran more candidates for legislative office in the state of Florida than they've ever ran before," he said.
Paulson thinks Overby is likely to draw votes equally from Sink and Jolly, a prediction backed by studies of previous elections that included Libertarian candidates.
Libertarianism might be gaining traction, but Overby and his party don't have enough name recognition to stop him from fielding oddball questions from voters. To raise awareness about his candidacy and meet voters, Overby held town halls in January where people could ask questions and debate.
"You get some weird stuff," he said, laughing. "I got, 'Will you promise to expose the reptilian conspiracy and balance the budget?' "
Overby's team estimates he's met roughly 150,000 of the district's 615,000 residents through town halls, door-to-door walks and other events. He also interacts with voters on his Facebook fan page, which he personally manages. Since he works full-time as a commercial diving supervisor, he doesn't sit down until 5 p.m. to craft private messages to voters. It's not uncommon for him to stay up until 2 a.m., he said, and that's after starting work at 4:30 the morning before.
When he's not discussing reptilian overlords, Overby tells voters about his conservative economic policies, push for marriage equality and goal to let states alone control abortion rights.
Overby works with 10 core volunteers and 150 more nationwide. The team currently has $1,500 on hand, he said.
As a longtime activist, Overby is no stranger to the grass roots approach. He has worked with LGBT, feminist and rape counseling groups, among others. Overby also founded Take a District, a nonpartisan group promoting voter education and political involvement among young adults.
It was through Take a District that the then-chair of the Libertarian Party of Florida persuaded Overby to run for office.
"There are actually no construction workers in Congress. Lots of lawyers, doctors, a few lobbyists," Overby said. "You have all these people making rules for the bricklayer. At a certain point it just seemed natural for the bricklayer to go make rules for himself."
Contact Julie Kliegman at email@example.com or (727) 893-8603. Follow her on Twitter @jmkliegman.