Thomas Jefferson impersonator seeks to influence the dialogue of the race

A man walks in, handcuffed to an empty paint can.

He’s got long hair.

He’s wearing bright green running shoes.

And he’s running for U.S. Senate in Missouri.

Patrick Lee is perhaps one of the most unusual and unlikely candidates in an election year filled with career politicians, American flag pins neatly fastened to lapels and countless grip-and-grin moments.

Lee — an independent, write-in candidate — readily admits the odds are not in his favor to win the Hunger Games-esque fight for public office.

In fact, he describes his chances as an “utter improbability.”

But the 65-year-old Boone County resident does hope to upset the tired election-cycle discourse.

“I expect to influence the debate,” he said. “If I influence it enough, I could be elected.”

In a year where many voters feel disenfranchised and anti-establishment sentiment runs rampant, Lee seeks to draw attention to critical issues on which elected Congressmen and Senators have “kicked the can.”

Hence, the empty paint can, emblazoned with “Kicking the Can?” crossed out.

While mainstream politicians can often talk in grand, unspecific terms, Lee counters with specific solutions to nine problems America faces, from immigration issues to the national debt.

He favors simplified legislation, fewer regulations and a more navigable tax code.

On several issues, Lee addresses with just a few bullet points. Compare that to the thousands of pages of instructions, rules and laws that come out of Washington every year, Lee suggested.

“You probably have city leaders here in Hannibal who tear out their hair trying to comply with federal regulations on wastewater, education and clean air,” he said. “They (regulations) are well-meaning, but utterly impractical.”

The self-funded, self-run campaign is in stark contrast to the billions of hidden dollars funneled into various political races throughout the country.

Many of the tenets of Lee’s campaign run contradictory to present-day politicking.

Partisanship many times dictates stances on ideas without debate on merit, Lee said. Republicans will oppose an idea just because it was introduced by a Democrat and vice versa, he explained.

“I want to be known for what I’m for, not what I’m against, or who I’m for, not who I’m against,” he offered, explaining why he chose to run as an independent never having sought public office before.

Lee spends his time giving speeches as Thomas Jefferson — hence the long hair — in his free time.

Asked to sum up his campaign, he said: “We need leadership, not can kickers,” seeming to echo sentiment felt throughout the country in this election year.

As swiftly as he came in to the Courier-Post newsroom (his speech is timed to nine minutes), he left, the empty can rattling against the handcuffs latched to his arm, the green sneakers calling attention to his “spectacle” of a campaign.

Democratic Secretary of State Jason Kander and incumbent Republican Roy Blunt are expected to do battle for the open spot in November. Both have been in Missouri’s political scene for years.

Reach editor Eric Dundon at eric.dundon@courierpost.com .