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Seeking Florida Senate comeback, Rod Smith is already on TV

Former state Sen. Rod Smith is wasting no time reintroducing himself to voters in a Gainesville-based state Senate district.

At a time when most legislative candidates are busy stockpiling money for direct mail in August or later, Smith is already on network TV stations and his election isn't until November -- but there's almost no ad clutter in May.

A Democrat seeking a return to Tallahassee after a decade, he's airing a homespun 30-second TV spot that shows him sipping coffee at his farm in rural Alachua, talking about the virtues of hard work and responsibility and bashing Tallahassee politicians.

"They raise our taxes just to turn around and give tax handouts to corporations," Smith says in the spot. "That's not being responsible."

The spot, produced by the Murphy Vogel firm and paid for by the state Democratic Party, shows Smith in a work shirt and jeans and leaning against a wooden fence with a John Deere tractor in the background. (You'd swear he's running for commissioner of agriculture).

In a tumultuous election cycle in which at least six of 14 Democratic senators won't be back, the minority party will be losing plenty of institutional knowledge at the Capitol. But Smith, 66, a former Senate Democratic leader, is one of the party's best hopes of gaining ground in the Senate.

A political fixture for decades in the heart of Gator country, solidly Democratic Alachua County, he's running in the redrawn 8th District that includes all of Alachua and Putnam counties and the northern half of Marion. Smith's lone opponent is three-term Republican state Rep. W. Keith Perry, a Gainesville contractor. Smith leads Perry at fundraising, $238,000 to $160,000.

President Barack Obama carried the district narrowly in 2012 by 51 to 49 percent, and Democrat Alex Sink beat Republican Gov. Rick Scott by a 52-48 margin in the district in 2010. Democrats held a 15-point advantage over Republicans in voter registration in 2010 in the district.

Smith is a former Gainesville-area state attorney who left the Senate in 2006 to run for governor, but he lost the Democratic nomination to then-U.S. Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa.

And speaking of TV ads, the Smith of today speaks much more slowly and clearly than he did back in '06, when his "helicopter" spot of a windblown Smith shouting over the whirr of a chopper at a landing strip in Fort Lauderdale, instantly became the stuff of Florida political legend.