Every Saturday, Chris Smith wakes up, drinks something hot, and laces up his walking shoes.
He gathers fliers, petition forms and other campaign paraphernalia to make the 30-minute trip to Delray Beach.
Smith is easily recognizable in and around Broward County, but in sections of Palm Beach County, the former state representative has to knock on doors and introduce himself to an electorate preparing to vote for its next state senator.
State Sen. Mandy Dawson, D-Fort Lauderdale, will leave her post this year due to term limits. The field that aims to replace her consists of several Broward politicos and advocates.
For both the candidates and the constituents, this race is shaping up to be an extended get-to-know-you session.
“I think I’ve knocked on almost every door in Delray Beach. It’s been a long time since I had to knock on doors, but it’s helping to get me back into my zone. I love to campaign,” said
Smith, the former state House minority leader.
Senate District 29 stretches from Davie to the far reaches of West Palm Beach. For Smith and other Broward-based candidates, the key to victory in November lies in Palm Beach County.
“There is this perception out there that it’s the power of the dollar that will win this race. I say, ‘No. The people will decide.’ We (the candidates) all have to go through Palm Beach, and the people will choose who they think can best represent their interests,” said candidate Terry Williams-Edden, another candidate for the state Senate seat.
Smith and Williams-Edden are competing with Michael Carn, Willie Potts Jr. and Earlean Smiley. Smith is leading the pack in fundraising and name recognition, but to the residents of
Delray, Boynton Beach and West Palm Beach, how much money a candidate raises is not nearly as important as what they can accomplish.
“I know that here in Boynton we need a concerted effort to develop certain parts of our black community. We’ve been talking about these same things for years, so the question really is who can finally get something done,” Said Bishop Kenneth Jones of the Boynton Beach Church of God.
Smith says he is that candidate.
“If I’m elected I will have served with nearly 80 percent of the Senate. Most of the Senate is made up of former representatives and the environment is more collegial,” Smith said.
“One thing I know is that you need a strong person in the Senate.”
Smith served in the House of Representatives for eight years, rising to the position of minority leader. He tells a story about the first bill he ever tried to pass in the House and how more senior members shot it down.
By the time he had become minority leader, he says, no one dared mess with his bills. He also talks about how difficult it was to accomplish things after Sen. Dawson began to struggle with a myriad of health concerns. For him the choice is clear. Experience trumps all.
Not so, said Williams-Edden.
“I don’t agree with that premise that he is kind of the de facto frontrunner because of his experience,” Williams-Edden said. “When Sistrunk Boulevard looks the same after eight years and Atlantic [Avenue] in Delray has the same problems, you have to say, ‘Well, what did experience get you?’”
It’s a long way until November. As Chris Smith eyes the 10-foot tall map of the district that hangs in his Broward campaign headquarters, he anticipates walking, having to introduce himself to constituents who sometimes won’t open their doors to him and opponents eager to point out his flaws.
“I’ve been spending time with my family for two years, but I’m getting back. I love to talk to people,” Smith said. “The one thing about experience is that when I talk to people I can actually answer their questions. I can give them the benefit of what I’ve learned.”
Photo: Chris Smith