State Rep. Jimmie T. Smith won a second term Tuesday by fending off an aggressive challenge from former state Sen. Nancy Argenziano.
The Inverness Republican took about 57 percent of the vote in the two-candidate contest for the District 34 seat, which represents all of Citrus County and the northwest portion of Hernando.
Observers expected Argenziano, a longtime Citrus lawmaker who most recently served on the Public Service Commission, to present a formidable challenge for Smith. But the Army veteran and former security guard said he had faith that voters would allow him to keep working for the district's economic recovery.
"They're worried about the economy, and they're worried about jobs," Smith said. "We just simply stayed on message and worked really hard to explain who I am and what I stand for."
During the campaign, Argenziano criticized Smith for dutifully following party leaders determined to reverse progress she helped past Legislatures make in areas such as environmental protection.
Smith maintained that he ran a clean campaign, but third-party electioneering groups dumped thousands of dollars in the form of slick mailers and television ads attacking Argenziano, some of them featuring false or misleading claims.
"I didn't lose to Jimmie Smith," Argenziano said. "His record of service can't compare to mine. I lost to special interests' money, and he's just their obedient tool."
Smith denied accusations that he was compliant in an alleged scheme to put a Democrat on the primary ballot solely to handicap Argenziano in the general election. The State Attorney's Office found no evidence to support a Citrus County man's claim that he was offered monetary compensation to run.
Argenziano said she will pursue a lawsuit filed last month against the Republican Party of Florida claiming one of its mailers defamed her. Beyond that, she's not sure about her next move.
"I'm not going to remain quiet because I'm too much of a patriot," she said.