Carlos Guillermo Smith faces party-backed GOP challenger in Susan Plasencia

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Will his progressive brand of politics deliver a fourth term or a rebuke?

Can Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith cruise to a fourth term in the House? A change in his district and heavy investment by the Republican Party mean he’s facing his most serious opponent in years.

Susan Plasencia, sister to former Rep. Rene Plasencia, hits the ballot with a solid family reputation and party support. But she still is trying to unseat a well-financed incumbent beloved by progressives in a Democrat-leaning district.

Smith said he feels confident heading toward Election Day in House District 37. One of three openly LGBTQ members of the Legislature and the state’s first gay Latino lawmaker, Smith has maintained a fundraising edge throughout the election cycle.

But he’s also had to contend with major resources at the state level helping Plasencia, often directing cold, hard cash to the Republican challenger.

“The Florida GOP donated $50,000 cash to my opponent to make up for her lack of community support or interest in her candidacy,” he argued defiantly. “They cannot buy this battleground seat nor the energy and enthusiasm behind our campaign which earned 1,600-plus donations from real people.”

While Smith has regularly tweeted the seat was among the most competitive in the state, past voter performance shows he should be in better shape than many Democratic candidates. About 54.84% of voters in the newly drawn HD 37 voted for Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 Presidential Election, with just 43.44% backing Republican Donald Trump.

Book closing numbers for the Nov. 8 General Election show registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district 37,034 to 32,720.

During his first six years in the Legislature, Smith developed a reputation as one of the most outspoken Democrats in the Legislature, frequently waging arguments on the House floor on “culture war” issues he believes are dividing Floridians. That includes speaking out against a ban on transgender girls in scholastic girls’ sports, and against a “parental rights” measure he has dubbed the “don’t say gay or trans” law that forbids teachers in lower grade school levels from teaching about gender identity or sexual orientation.

But the University of Central Florida-centered district also has a lot of ground, particularly in Seminole County, where Smith has never run before.

Meanwhile, Plasencia has her own base. She is a small business owner, president of the family business that puts on the Calle Orange festival in downtown Orlando, and she boasts ties to the local Cuban and Puerto Rican communities (the latter includes Smith as well).

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She’s also championed school choice, with her own children having taken advantage of opportunity scholarships provided through the state.

“Had it not been for school choice vouchers, my children would have been locked in a school that was failing them in many ways,” she writes in a message on her website.

In the final days of her campaign, pictures taken by a private investigator raised questions whether Plasencia moved her voter registration to a home where she is not living in order to run and vote in HD 37. She cast a ballot while registered at the new address.

Plasencia said the only things the photos show is that she is spending a lot of time caring for her sick mother in a home they used to share, and she is indeed living in a three-bedroom home with four other adults and with a little over 1,000 square feet of livable space.

But she has repeatedly expressed that Smith’s “woke” politics don’t represent the community’s values, giving Republicans confidence they can win the seat.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected]



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