In the race for Florida’s 13th congressional district, an unusual set of circumstances has elevated a third-party candidate from the role of a spoiler to that of a serious challenger. According to a telephone poll of 1,121 likely voters conducted by StPetePolls, Libertarian Party candidate Lucas Overby is polling at an astonishing 31% in his race against incumbent Republican Congressman David Jolly. Overby is currently trailing Representative Jolly by 17%.
Democratic candidate Ed Jany dropped out of the race, making the CD-13 congressional contest a two-way affair between Republican Representative Jolly and his Libertarian Party challenger. During a previous special election, Lucas Overby demonstrated his fundraising chops with an impressive one-weekend, $10,000+ donation drive. Florida’s 13th congressional district is considered a possible swing seat. Though Republicans have held the seat in recent years, Barack Obama took the majority of the votes in the district in the 2012 presidential campaign, showing signs of a strong Democratic presence.
Noting the vacuum created by the absence of a Democratic challenger in the race, Overby has been reaching out to disaffected Democrats. According to the above-linked StPetePolls survey, his strategy has been working, as 43% of Democrats polled expressed their support for the Libertarian alternative. The Overby campaign hopes to secure the votes of more Democrats, independents, and disaffected Republicans by climbing further in the polls and demonstrating viability as a challenger against Jolly.
Third-party candidates often struggle to gain legitimacy and are viewed as spoilers or protest candidates. However, the “wasted vote” and “lesser-of-two-evils” arguments won’t come into play in this race, due the lack of a second major-party challenger. In comments published by Creative Loafing, Overby slammed Republicans, “I have never, ever found an area where a Republican candidate actually represented all of my ideals.” He also indicated that, in past elections, he has often sided with progressive Democrats due to their positions on social issues and civil liberties. This rhetorical move seems aimed at reaching across party lines to win the favor of left-leaning Pinellas County voters.
Lucas Overby has a long road ahead if he is going to defeat incumbent Republican Congressman David Jolly. That said, he has shattered the typical single-digit polling that third-party candidates usually receive. The circumstances surrounding his race are exactly the type of perfect storm that could produce an unusual outcome. Though he is certainly the underdog in the race, a rare third-party victory is within the realm of possibility.
Will he become the Libertarian Party’s first congressman in US history? Only time will tell. Regardless, this race for Florida’s 13th congressional district will be an interesting one to watch.