David Smith does his homework; anyone who’s ever worked with him knows that.
So as the former Marine colonel who now is a business consultant enters his 21-month race for Florida House District 28, the Winter Springs Republican is coming more prepared than he was in his humbling loss in his last attempt at public office, his 2014 primary challenge to then U.S. Rep. John Mica, until it was too late.
Even early on in that 2014 race – which he lost by more than 50 points – Smith was fully up on the the district’s demographic trends, its voting history, Mica’s record, polling on issues, and the names and addresses of important contributors. But he never quite caught on to Mica’s enormous popularity within the Republican Party of the Seminole County-based district.
That’s not a problem this time. Smith, 56, is running for a seat that will be vacated by the term-limit of incumbent Republican state Rep. Jason Brodeur. And this time, he’s touched key bases before he filed Tuesday, sitting down with Brodeur and other area Republican leaders, most notably state Reps. Scott Plakon and Bob Cortes.
Other Republicans may yet enter the race, and names have been floated. But this time Smith knows from homework what others are telling him: that the path is his. And he knows this is a district Republicans ought to win, though Mica thought the same thing about Florida’s 7th Congressional District 7 until Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy bumped him off in November. Smith had been right about something in 2014, when he suspected Mica was vulnerable because of the changing demographics in Seminole County. But that theory just didn’t work within the party.
Currently the only other candidate is 19-year-old University of Florida student Devin Guillermo Perez, a Democrat.
This time Smith has advice of top Seminole officials encouraging him, rather than wondering what the heck he’s doing, particularly that of Brodeur, Plakon and Cortes.
“We really have prepared. And all three of them basically said ‘Launch early, make yourself the front-runner, the guy to beat, and don’t worry if anybody else gets in,'” Smith said. “You know, I’m well-known, I’m well-liked. I guess I’m probably more well-liked than well-known. But we’ll fix that.”
He’s not looking at a Florida house district as a step down from his earlier congressional ambitions. He’s looking at it as the logical result of what he learned in his 2014 campaign. In his 2014 canvassing, he asked voters what issues “keep you up at night?”
“So as I was listening to people, many of the issues voters wanted to talk about were local and state issues. Not the federal tax code. Not national defense,” Smith said. “That really got the spark in me to say, ‘Hey, I can be affective. I can make a difference win the lives of people in Central Florida.”
The biggest issue on voters minds in that race, he said, was education. Smithwants to re-assert vocation education in high schools, and to find ways to better promote high school Junior ROTC. It’s not just a realization that college is not for everyone, he said; it’s a matter that those programs also can create paths through higher education. They did for him.
“I went to a vo-tech high school. I learned to weld in high school, and worked my way through college as a welder,” Smith said. “I had a Marine Corps scholarship that helped a little bit but I worked as a welder through college and graduated debt free because I had a trade.”
That Marine Corps scholarship, which was tied to college Reserve Officer Training Corps, led him to a 30-year career in the Marines, the last few years as director of the Marine Corps’ modeling and simulation center at the University of Central Florida’s Research Park. Since retiring, he’s worked in the modeling and simulation industry, most recently as a business consultant, primarily but not exclusively in the modeling and simulation industry.
But it’s not enough. Smith has been looking for a way to get back to public service.
“If my campaign had a tagline, it would be, ‘just because you take the uniform off doesn’t mean you want to quit serving,'” Smith said.