ST. PETERSBURG - The youngest age to run for Congress is 25, though it's tough to find anyone younger than 35 actually doing so.
At 27, Lucas Overby is by far the youngest candidate in the District 13 congressional race, but to him that's of little consequence. The Largo-born Libertarian demonstrated a confidence and wonkish-ness at a recent debate that nobody on the stage seemed to expect.
He said it's because he has been running for the seat for more than a year, well before Congressman C.W. Bill Young's death set a truncated, bitterly partisan special election cycle into motion. In fact, when Overby's party volunteered him to run, Young had yet to announce he was even retiring.
In the year since, Overby has gleaned an intricate knowledge of issues such as immigration reform and gun control, though his years spent as an activist -- coalition building, as he puts it - may have been a primer.
"When I was younger and on the activism side, when I wasn't fundraising I was either helping write or push legislation, things like that, so you kind of learn the back side of things that people don't usually see," he said.
Now, Overby the candidate is challenging Republican David Jolly, 41, and Democrat Alex Sink, 65, for the U.S. House of Representatives seat in a March 11 election.
Overby was born in Largo and raised in Clearwater. His father runs a professional diving company in Pinellas Park where Overby works, and his mother is a homemaker.
His name turned up in a Tampa Tribune article written when he was in kindergarten at Belleair Elementary in 1992 and his class was celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Even then, he apparently had a confident air; the reporter noted he was "self-assured despite his untied sneakers."
He said his parents are Republicans, but not politically active. He was more of the sports type - soccer and volleyball - but became politically inclined when he went to Lakewood High School for its Center for Advanced Technology, a magnet program.
The 21?2-hour bus ride meant plenty of time for conversation with classmates, as did the time spent drinking coffee and talking politics at the Globe Coffee Lounge when it was open in downtown St. Petersburg.
His first brush with activism came when he joined the school's Gay-Straight Alliance after a friend of his came out as gay, and from there he got involved in a variety of causes.
"I have been in activism for a really, really long time," he said. "As I kind of ambled through different activist groups, I would meet people, hear a new story and want to help."
Overby became a Libertarian as a result of a high school civics project. A teacher told him to research and join either the Republican, Democratic or Independent party, so he checked other parties out of defiance.
"I read through the platform, took the world's smallest political quiz and obviously didn't understand the various nuances at the time, but the very basic principle of no coercion made sense to me and so I registered with them," he said. "As I grew and developed over time, it's been the ideology that's matched me the best as I've gotten older ... There's so much with the Republican side that I can't get into on the social aspect, and there's so much on the Democrats' side that I can't get into on the fiscal aspects. And I'm not a person who tends to compromise very readily on my beliefs."
Overby is now married and has a 4-year-old daughter. He was initially reluctant to run for the seat.
"The number one rule in politics apparently is, don't stand too close or you're going to get volunteered for something," he said. "And that's what happened. I got asked by my party to run now, which premonition, whatever, the advice ended up being extremely useful."
The appeal of a special election for Overby is that a fraction of voters tend to show up, which means his party can potentially bring out a higher percentage of voters than in a regular election, and he and his volunteer campaign staff have been sharpening their platform for a year.
"The messages (or the Republican and Democrat campaigns) have been very contrived and very controlled because neither of those campaigns would exist without the parties fabricating them," he said. "For us, we were able to bring our message straight away, right into it."