Michelle Salzman managed to give Rep. Mike Hill the boot in the Republican primary for House District 1, defeating him with 52% of the vote in a two-way race.
When Salzman entered the race a year ago, her candidacy was seen as a long shot. But Hill’s penchant for acerbic, divisive comments brought the support of notable Northwest Florida Republicans such as former Senate President Don Gaetz and former Rep. Frank White to Salzman’s campaign in droves.
With all but some provisional ballots remaining, Salzman received 11,077 votes to Hill’s 10,029 votes.
Salzman said her victory is a “pleasant surprise” and said her victory was a victory for the people of Northwest Florida and Escambia County.
“I didn’t take anything for granted at all,” Salzman said. “All this past year we have just been telling every single person that we meet that every vote counts, that their vote matters. And tonight that was certainly the case.”
As her fundraising numbers soared, Hill’s dried up. By Election Day, she had out-raised him $98,000 to $88,000 and outspent him by a $15,000 margin.
Salzman’s campaign had a strong close, earning endorsements from the Florida Medical Association and posting a five-figure report for the last week of July and another for the first couple weeks of August.
But Hill went 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 also was 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.
This year, voters rejected the antics, opting for a fresh start with a Representative who doesn’t make headlines for laughing at the suggestion that people start stoning gays.
That incident it seems marked the beginning of the end for Hill’s second stint in the state House.
After a recording of the event surfaced, Hill found himself crossways with House Speaker Jose Oliva and incoming House Speaker Chris Sprowls.
The 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.
Hill did not respond to Florida Politics’s request for comment Tuesday.
Though there will be a general election in HD 1, the contest effectively ended Tuesday night 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.
Salzman will face Franscine Mathis in November after the latter secured the Democratic nomination Tuesday.
Salzman said if she wins in November, she will represent all of the people in the district.
“My platform has always been safety, infrastructure and education,” Salzman told the Pensacola News Journal. “And I think that we can all agree that Northwest Florida could use a little bit of extra money and a little bit of extra support in those areas.”
The News Service of Florida contributed to this post.