“Immature, dishonorable and a bad leader.”
Those are the words Democrat challenger Phil Ehr has used to describe incumbent Congressman Matt Gaetz. Ehr’s critique is hardly remarkable, particularly in this era of gloves-off politics. Perhaps more remarkable, however, is the way Ehr has portrayed himself to the voters who elected Gaetz in 2017.
“I’m a lifelong Republican, but that attachment holds second place to my responsibility to my country,” Ehr said during the 2020 Democratic National Convention. “That’s why I’ve chosen to appear at this convention. In normal times, something like this would probably never happen but these are not normal times.”
In his bid for Congressional District 1, Ehr will need to tap into the district’s deep pool of Republican voters to unseat Gaetz. Swaying the right-leaning district, however, will be no small task.
CD 1 includes five northwest Florida counties: Escambia, Holmes, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton. According to voter records, 44% of voters in Escambia County and 59% of voters in Santa Rosa County are registered Republicans.
What’s more, the last Democrat to run for the seat, Jennifer Zimmerman, fell short with only 32% in 2018. In 2016, Democratic challenger Steven Specht garnered only 31% of the district’s vote.
Ehr’s longshot bid hinges on his ability weaponize Gaetz’s loyalty to President Donald Trump against him. In a television ad titled “Cut the Noise,” Ehr likens the political tactics Gaetz and Trump use to those he experienced as a naval pilot in the Cold War, Desert Storm and Balkins.
Much of Ehr’s career was spent flying reconnaissance missions and advising senior leaders in Washington, London, and NATO, according to his campaign website.
“I’ve spent my whole life training for moments like this,” the 26-year Navy veteran says in the ad. “If you spend a lifetime learning how to see through the fog of war, there’s one thing you learn: one of the main tools of the enemy, it’s noise. Chaos meant to hide what’s actually going on.”
The ad continues: “In the cold war, we watched Russia use those tactics every day. But I never thought I’d see the day when American leaders would use information warfare against their own people.”
As of July 29, Ehr’s campaign chest holds over $292,000 cash on hand. He also enjoys an endorsement, among others, from the Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus. Gaetz, meanwhile, boasts nearly $1 million in his war chest and a prime time appearance Monday at the 2020 Republican National Convention.
There, he delivered a doomsday speech to Trump’s base and the nation, warning of the perils of Democratic leadership.
“The woketopians will settle for Biden because they will make him an extra in a movie written, produced, and directed by others,” Gaetz said. ““It’s a horror film really. They’ll disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home, and invite MS13 to live next door. The police aren’t coming when you call. In Democrat-run cities, they’ve already been defunded.”
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.