Today is election day in Florida, and one candidate has the establishment worried. Lucas Overby, a 27-year-old professional dive supervisor, is running for the congressional seat vacated by the late Representative Bill Young (R) in the 13th District. Despite being omitted from several polls and marginalized in some of the media coverage of the race, Overby is still running as a Libertarian against Democrat Alex Sink and Republican David Jolly.
The prominent libertarian-learning Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has gone so far as to lend his voice to a robo-call campaign encouraging those who might vote for Overby to instead vote for Jolly. The organization responsible for the calls, American Crossroads, explains their motivation: “We need to make sure that Lucas Overby does not become a spoiler that gives Nancy Pelosi one more vote in the House.”
The “spoiler” fear has been widely repeated, including by Democratic analysts. Polls estimate Overby’s support among likely voters at between four and 12 percent, with the average being closer to six percent. The estimated margin between Jolly and Sink has varied, but has largely been within the same range. The race has been judged too close to call as recently as Monday.
Whether Overby would indeed draw enough votes from those who would otherwise vote Republican to tip the election, though, is unclear. Similar predictions were made for Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis in Virginia’s gubernatorial election last year, which Democrat Terry McAuliffe won. Exit polls, though, did not support such claims. Although McAuliffe’s margin of victory was less than Sarvis’s vote total, the majority of voters for Sarvis claimed that had the Libertarian not been on the ballot, they would not have voted.
The Florida Libertarian seems to have a similar expectation regarding his own supporters. “The majority of people we’ve spoken to directly were happy to be voting,” he said; “they were not planning on doing so. I honestly believe if we were not in this race, the voting returns would not be nearly as high as they are.”
If elected, Overby would become one of precious few voices for a more sensible drug policy in Congress. His priorities on the topic include “federal legalization of medicinal marijuana and hemp farming,” followed by legalizing marijuana “for all persons over the age of 21.” Although other drugs are not specifically mentioned, he does advocate a gradual “controlled withdrawal from the War on Drugs” and criticizes the incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders. He has previously worked with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and the Florida state organization People United for Medical Marijuana.
Neither Sink nor Jolly have included any comments on any aspect of drug policy on the issues sections of their websites. In a debate last month, Jolly simply answered “no” to a debate question concerning whether he supported medical marijuana, while Sink in the same debate was somewhat supportive of the general concept. Sink expressed opposition to “pot shops on every corner of Florida,” however.
Polling from last fall indicates that about 82% of registered voters in Florida agree with Overby on medical marijuana, while about 48% agree that recreational marijuana use should be legal. The issue of medical marijuana, which continues advancing around the country, will come up for a statewide referendum in the fall.
Marijuana may actually be an issue where Overby will attract more Democratic-leaning voters, in line with what 2012 Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson recently stated on the issue. Medical marijuana and more far-reaching legalization have admittedly become much more popular with Republicans in recent years, and polls at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference gave significant support to both. However, legalization remains dramatically more popular with self-identified Democrats than with Republicans. Similar comments can be made for gay marriage, which Overby also supports.
Florida has recently been considered a swing state and, like some other swing states, a good predictor of the results of presidential elections. The 13th District in particular has been described as a “bellwether district” and “a purple terrain,” having gone to President Obama in 2012 by less than two points, while George W. Bush won the district with only 51 percent in 2004. Libertarian electoral successes here, then, may be taken particularly seriously as indicators of the party’s prospects in the rest of the country.
Update: David Jolly has won the election with 48.5% to Alex Sink’s 46.6%. Overby garnered a solid 4.8%. The Libertarian candidate, then, again received more votes than the margin of victory of the winner over the second-place finisher, but whether these votes would otherwise have gone to Jolly, Sink, both equally, or neither remains to be seen.