I first encountered Jonathan Dine on The New Republic's front page with what appeared to be a giant marijuana leaf tattooed on his pectorals.
Dine has practically zero political experience, waxes competitive about bench-pressing, and has been convicted of not one but two felonies. He's also running as a third-party Senate candidate in Missouri, and following Rep. Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" comments, is expected to help throw the race to Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill.
The weirdest part of all though, is that the more I learn about this zany "shirtless libertarian," the more normal he actually seems. What looks like an enormous legalize marijuana tattoo is actually a Sharpie drawing he picked up at a state fair, and his most recent felony is for growing a handful of marijuana plants in his apartment, plants he claimed in an interview with The Huffington Post belonged to his roommate Michael Chilson.
Dine said he originally called the police when his girlfriend's father showed up at their apartment belligerently drunk. Spotting some bud on the table, the police dropped their original mission and began searching the house for drugs. The plants they found in the closet upstairs sent Dine to jail for several months in 2006. His girlfriend's father, meanwhile, was never charged with anything.
Chilson, who described Dine as "goofy" but "not wild," said he never had any trouble living with him in Parkville, Mo. "He was very kind, just kind of accepted me in," Chilson told HuffPost on Friday. "I bought some food too, but he shared everything he had with me."
But more than any character trait, it's the time Dine spent behind bars that's shaped his political identity and inspired him to run for higher office. His views are classically libertarian, but he adds that even Ron Paul is too socially conservative for his taste. "I just feel like the criminal justice system favors the rich and imprisons the poor. There's a lot of corruption with courts and judges," Dine said. "No longer are police your protectors."
Dine has had other run-ins with the law, including an identity theft conviction in 2005 when he purchased what turned out to be a stolen car with his brother's license. Dine said he had no idea it was stolen and used his brother's license because his own was suspended after he failed to pay a speeding ticket, one of the many he's had in recent years.
A search of Missouri's Department of Criminal Records turns up about a dozen traffic violations, including, most notably, a DWI conviction in 2011. (Dine claims he had a beer too many and was pulled over for driving 10 miles over the speed limit.)
If it seems absurd that a guy like Dine could help throw the Senate election in Missouri, peeling a few percentage points away from the Republican candidate, consider that until just a few weeks ago, the overwhelming favorite for the seat was Todd Akin -- a guy who believes women can secrete a toxic chemical that kills off the sperm of rapists, or something.
Meanwhile, it's the guy who grows his own pot that we label as fringe? It's little wonder that McCaskill has surged to frontrunner status. Per TPM's Polltracker: