Romano: Democrats' blunders open door to Libertarian facing David Jolly

Published May 31, 2014

Question: What do you call a third-party candidate who suddenly finds himself in a two-man race?

Answer: Legit.

And for this Lucas Overby should blow kisses to local Democrats. They not only did a spectacular job of bungling the Congressional District 13 race for themselves, but they opened the door for Overby, who hadn't planned on running.

Of course, this doesn't mean the Libertarian candidate will overtake Republican incumbent David Jolly in November. I'm guessing the unofficial odds would fall somewhere between remote and zilch.

But won't it be interesting to watch the mating dance between Overby and Democrats in the coming months?

Because their party honchos failed to act with any A) urgency B) vision C) strategy D) brain activity whatsoever, there will be no Democrat on the ballot in the fall.

This, of course, will preclude local liberals from voting for one of their own, but it doesn't mean a lot of them won't still show up just to stick it to the Republicans.

"Am I the ideal candidate for Democrats?'' Overby asks. "No, but I appeal to them a lot more than David Jolly.''

For the moment there is little interaction between Democrats and Overby. He says that a few party insiders have offered support but want to stay in the shadows for fear of alienating the party base.

And for his part, Overby, 27, is walking a fine line between appealing to Democrats and maintaining essentially the same platform he ran on in the special election in March.

Still, there is wiggle room.

Overby points out that the Libertarian platform is broader than those of the two major parties, and it allows for right-leaning and left-leaning candidates.

For instance, Overby may not support the raising of the minimum wage, but he is prochoice, supports LGBT issues and favors the federal legalization of medical marijuana.

His progressive streak led him to work with the Rev. Manuel Sykes on his campaign in April before Democratic leaders bullied Sykes into dropping out. Within a week, Overby had decided to re-enter the race.

"We obviously need to capitalize on the void Democrats have left,'' Overby said. "But we're not saying 'you should vote for me just because I'm the one standing here.' We will earn every bit of support.''

Overby also hopes to pick off mainstream Republicans who disagree with some of Jolly's hard-right stances. Voting for a Libertarian will carry little risk for Republicans in this race because there is no Democrat to benefit from the split vote.

So what is plausible? Overby got roughly 5 percent of the vote in March with Jolly and Democrat Alex Sink on the ballot. His numbers will increase with no Democrat around, but jumping from 5 percent to 50 seems unlikely.

His hope is that by midsummer he is polling in the high 30s, which might create some buzz among Democrats who are solidly anti-Jolly.

"He should be reaching out to local Democratic clubs and accentuating areas where they have similarities,'' said Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice. "This may be his only chance, and it makes sense for him to take advantage of the situation.''

Considering Sink and her supporters couldn't beat Jolly while spending $6 million, it's nutty to think Overby can win on a shoestring budget.

Almost as nutty as Democrats failing to find a candidate two months after nearly winning a congressional seat.