Congressional Candidates Make Final Push For Votes

Nov 6, 2018

Republican incumbent Rep. Matt Gaetz and his Democratic challenger Jennifer Zimmerman take part in the WSRE Rally 2018 candidate forum on Oct. 29.
Credit WSRE TV

With the clock ticking toward the close of the 2018 General Election, the candidates for Florida’s First District Congressional seat are making a final push for votes.

In the past week, Republican incumbent Matt Gaetz and his Democratic opponent Jennifer Zimmerman have been energized by their respective party’s efforts to get out the vote in the statewide races.

Speaking prior to President Trump’s Pensacola rally for Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis, Gaetz took some of the credit for making it happen as he recounted a conversation he said he had with the president.

“We said, we need you in Orlando and Miami and Tampa in southwest Florida,” said Gaetz in the video from his Facebook page. “He (Trump) said, ‘Matt, I will go anywhere you want me to, as long as I can come to Pensacola.’” With that the partisan crowd erupted into cheers of approval.

On Wednesday of last week, Zimmerman appeared at two campaign rallies held in Pensacola by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.

On her Facebook page, she posted a Facebook Live video of a brief interaction with Gillum as he was leaving.

“Yes, hey everybody,” said Gillum as he connected with Zimmerman. “Go vote everybody.”

For her part, Zimmerman said, “This is for you Matt; we’re coming for you DeSantis.” She then repeated Gillum’s campaign slogan “Let’s bring it home” and called on her supporters to “Get this good doctor to the House.”

Their final full week on the campaign trail began with an appearance by both candidates on WSRE TV’s Rally 2018 candidate forum. This was an opportunity to share their views on the issues in the congressional race by answering questions prepared by the Pensacola Bay Area and Okaloosa & Walton chapters of the League of Women Voters.

Their differences are starkest when it comes to healthcare and immigration. Specifically, the candidates were asked what they would propose to address the issue of the Dreamers.  Zimmerman has the unique perspective of being a Naturalized U.S. Citizen, who legally immigrated from the Philippines. For these young people, she wants to create a path to citizenship, without compromising border security.

“Let’s just face the fact. They’re here; they’ve contributed to society,” said Zimmerman.  “Contrary to what the right says, they’re not all evil and don’t all commit crimes. They’ve been in our military, in our schools, in our hospitals, and are teachers.”

However, Gaetz offered little sympathy for the situation. He believes accommodating the Dreamers, would create an incentive for more people to bring their children to the U.S. illegally. His position on the issue mirrors that of President Trump.

“I think the appropriate immigration policy is to build a wall, to enact E-Verify, to get rid of sanctuary cities; and, until those things are done, I do not support any amnesty of any kind because it sends the wrong message,” Gaetz proclaimed.

The candidates also are in step with their party position on the Affordable Care Act, which under Trump has lost about 90 percent of its federal funding for outreach, including health counselors (or navigators).

Referred to as Obamacare, Gaetz called the nation's healthcare law a disaster.

“We’ve been so focused on who’s got healthcare insurance, that we haven’t focused on actual cost of health care,” said Gaetz, adding that his plan calls for allowing people to buy insurance across state lines, which will make access more affordable. “Also, we’ve got to chisel away at the hospital industrial complex that has it where an Advil can cost 200 bucks.”

Zimmerman, who’s a pediatrician, explained to her opponent that hospitals are forced to charge more for healthcare, in part, because some individuals still find it necessary to use the emergency room as a primary care option.

“So the hospitals who do not get adequate funding for that because people come in in droves with no insurance, said Zimmerman, “Who pays for that,” she asked rhetorically, “It’s not free, all of us tax payers.”

Additionally, the physician said if Republicans pursued their threats to eliminate the protections for those with pre-existing conditions, it would undermine and “cut off the legs” of ACA, which she pointed out has helped some 23 million people, including some of her own family members.

The candidates also were at odds over the issue of whether to ban semi-automatic weapons, with Zimmerman willing to consider the action to curb gun violence and Gaetz absolutely against any such regulation, as he pursues legislation to create a national concealed carry reciprocity law.

One of the few issues Gaetz and Zimmerman agree on is offshore drilling, with both in opposition because of the threat oil drilling poses to the mission of the military in the region.

In this race for Florida’s First District seat in Congress, incumbent Matt Gaets has an advantage by just about every measure. He’s a Republican in this very conservative part of the state. He has name recognition, and he’s raised the most campaign funds, a total of over $1.1 million.

By comparison, Jennifer Zimmerman raised a just over $54,000.

But, she’s not deterred, noting that you can’t discount those intangible factors that led to her surprise victory in the primary.

“No one took my campaign seriously,” said the Democratic candidate, explaining that not only was she a late entry into the race, but she was only female and had the least amount of money. “Yet, I had over 60 percent of the votes.”

She believes people are overlooking the strong relationships she’s built over the nearly two decades she’s lived and worked in the region, specifically Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties.

If Zimmerman is to have a chance of becoming the first Democrat in a while and the first woman ever to represent the area in congress, she’ll need those relationships to translate into a lot of votes.