Two years after his first run for U.S. House District-1, Phil Ehr is back to challenge incumbent Republican Matt Gaetz.
In 2018, Ehr — a retired U.S. Navy commander — lost in the Democratic primary to Jennifer Zimmerman, who went on to lose to Gaetz. Ehr says that was then, this is now, he faced no primary challenger this time.
“Elections are funny things; it’s a comfort level between the electorate and the candidate,” Ehr said. “One of the lessons of campaigning that I learned was that you don’t have a campaign, unless you have the resources to do it. And so while the last time I was not focused on fundraising so much. This time, I am.”
In the period between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, the Ehr campaign has collected around $1.5 million, and spent $1.1 million, according to financial reports, which also shows Gaetz raising close to $3 million and spending about two-thirds of that.
Ehr’s campaign rhetoric is also rare for a Democrat. Besides Gaetz, he’s also targeting the White House, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“We need change in Washington, D.C.; that means change in the presidency, change in the leadership of the House in a way that brings people together,” said Ehr. “Our people in Northwest Florida want a responsible government; and they want folks who are working for unity, not division.”
As he did in 2018, Ehr is tying his run for Congress with his 26-year military career, as evidenced by this campaign ad.
“I love the country I spent my life serving; and I can no longer stand by and watch dishonorable men like Donald Trump and Matt Gaetz treat the American people like enemy combatants,” Ehr says in the spot. “It is time for the lies and the chaos to stop.”
Ehr’s been going around District-1 talking to residents, and says the top priorities appear to be jobs, resurrecting the economy, and what he calls a “chain of command” that’s falling short on fighting the coronavirus.
I'm Phil Ehr, the 26-year Navy veteran who will beat Matt Gaetz this November. pic.twitter.com/avCsnAFckG
— Phil Ehr (@PhilEhr) October 20, 2020
“That chain of command comes out of the White House, the governor’s mansion, to Matt Gaetz and some politicians making decisions here in our district, but not all, thankfully,” Ehr said. “Many of them are applying actual science to the actual economy. And that’s what we need to do, to go about opening up restaurants, getting people into schools when it is safe to do so.”
One local issue is the use of the district’s public beaches, which have been at the center of a legal battle between those who would privatize them and those wanting to keep public access. Ehr contends one proponent of privatizing is Matt Gaetz.
“He continues because of his silence on the present threat, and the reality of ‘customary use’ in Walton County and stretching all the way over to Perdido Key,” said Ehr. “Of losing customary use, losing public access to enjoy our beachers.”
When it comes to former Vice President Joe Biden’s run for president, Ehr says Biden represents change in America, but adds he’s not looking to ride his coattails.
“I’m here to run my campaign for the people of Northwest Florida,” Ehr said. “And I believe that Joe Biden’s going to benefit from me. Somebody else had asked me if I was riding his coattails, and I think the opposite is true.”
Internal polling, he says, shows Trump is “well ahead” of Biden in Florida House-1, although he gave no numbers. Many believe Phil Ehr is facing an uphill battle against Matt Gaetz, who’s well-funded and enjoys popularity in what is perhaps the reddest part of Florida. Ehr says this is one of the most contrasting races in the nation.
“Two different people with values that are worlds apart,” Ehr said. “You look at Gaetz’s behavior, you look at his legislative agenda, and you look at what our agenda is and my record of service to the nation. You know, we do have an opportunity to begin — right here in Northwest Florida — America’s revival.”
Calls and emails to Congressman Matt Gaetz seeking an interview have not been returned.