If any year was going to be the one for a third-party candidate looking to gain some momentum in Minnesota’s Second Congressional District, this could be it.

That’s the hope that brought Independence Party candidate Paula Overby into the race for a second straight election cycle. Overby, a 62-year-old quality assurance analyst from Eagan, first ran for the seat in 2014, garnering 5 percent of the vote against longtime Republican incumbent John Kline and Democratic challenger Mike Obermueller. She wasn’t planning to run this year, but after Kline decided to retire and the race opened up, Overby decided it was the right time to jump in to provide an alternative to the “polarization” she says the country’s two-party system has created.

While Overby acknowledges that it’s tough to get into the middle of the heated race between Democrat Angie Craig and Republican Jason Lewis, she said it’s become clear that some voters are thinking more seriously this year about options beyond the major parties.

“It’s not unusual in the early part of a campaign season, spring and early summer, for people to be talking about third parties,” she said. “That usually levels out by the election and people go back to doing what they always do. That’s what’s unusual about this year: That independent voter base is holding instead.”

Overby — who was born in Redwood Falls and lived in Wisconsin and New Hampshire before moving back to Minnesota to attend college — was previously an active DFLer, serving on committees and working on campaigns. But she said she’s grown frustrated by politics and politicians unable to respond to multiple perspectives.

Overby said she sees herself as a mediator, able to communicate with and understand people from a variety of backgrounds. She said part of that comes from working in community mental health after earning a psychology degree at the University of Minnesota. Part of it is also shaped by her identity as a transgender woman. She’s among the first transgender candidates for Congress in the country, and the first in Minnesota.

“That’s part of what makes me uniquely qualified,” she said. “I can talk to people. I can talk to men, and talk to women, and understand that they have very different needs. I can talk to wealthy people, talk to very poor people and can understand they have very different priorities.”

If elected, Overby said her priorities would include building a localized model for health care services, including mental health, and tackling the country’s growing student loan crisis.

But first, Overby said she wants the chance to share those issues at forums and debates in the district. She said she’s agreed to participate in several events, including a Dakota County debate and a League of Women Voters event at St. Olaf College, but the major party candidates have either declined or backed out.

“The whole process is very exclusive of any independent candidate or third-party candidate,” she said.