HD 1 primary pits controversial incumbent Mike Hill against establishment-backed Michelle Salzman
Chris Christie. Image via AP.

A strong challenger makes this more than a referendum on Hill.

A few months ago, Rep. Mike Hill had flatlined in fundraising while Michelle Salzman pulled in maximum contributions and major endorsements.

Heading into the Republican primary for House District 1, Hill and Salzman are near even in the money race and Hill has added nods from associations and trade groups such as the National Federation of Independent Business.

Salzman hasn’t floundered in the final weeks of the primary — she’s picked up endorsements from the Florida Medical Association and posted a five-figure report to close out July.

But Hill has gone on the offensive, smearing Salzman with mailers claiming she supports defunding police and other positions that would be controversial in any GOP primary, let alone one in the deep red Escambia County district.

The mailers are misleading, and Salzman has filed official complaints describing them as such. Still, the tactics closely parallel the 2018 primary race, when Hill was also challenged by a strong female candidate, Rebecca Bydlak.

Hill pulled out all the stops and made outlandish promises — he claimed he was bringing Donald Trump’s star from the Hollywood Walk of Fame to Pensacola, for one.

But Hill has kneecapped himself, too. Possibly more so than he has Salzman.

Last year, Hill made national headlines after he was recorded laughing off a suggestion that people start stoning gays. That recording and the Pensacola Republican’s subsequent non-apology led politicians on both sides of the aisle to condemn him.

House leadership even tossed him from the prestigious House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee.

Hill has also been toxically insensitive amid the coronavirus pandemic, refusing to help a constituent who was struggling with the collapsed unemployment system at a time when lawmakers in both parties were turning their district offices into ersatz unemployment offices by providing paper applications and rushing them to Tallahassee with an assist from FedEx.

Another possible difference-maker: the 2020 primary is a two-person race.

Two years ago, three Republicans vied for the nomination and there are indications one of them, Lisa Doss, was recruited by Hill to play concern troll and siphon votes away from Bydlak. Doss told supporters that if she hadn’t earned their vote, the next-best option was Hill.

Subterfuge or no, her 9% share of the vote was pivotal in the final outcome.

Tuesday, however, is a true head-to-head. Salzman has the support of influential Panhandle Republicans like former Senate President Don Gaetz and former Rep. Frank White, who in turn recruited other Republican pols from across the state to back Salzman’s bid and fill her campaign account with cash.

No matter the outcome Tuesday, the primary winner will find themselves in Tallahassee next Session as HD 1 is among the most reliably Republican seats in the Legislature — Hill won the general with about 61% of the vote two years ago.

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.


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