A retired U.S. Navy Commander will end Tuesday in what may arguably prove to be his toughest mission yet: convincing a deep-red district to oust President Donald Trump’s most loyal congressional ally.
Phil Ehr has spent more than 16 months battling Congressman Matt Gaetz for control of the western Panhandle’s 1st Congressional District. But unlike a traditional Democrat, he’s taken a more unconventional approach.
Ehr’s describes himself as a “lifelong Republican” turned Democrat. Along the trail, he’s taken shots at both sides of the aisle including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Florida’s CD’s 1 covers Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties. It is home to a large military veteran population – a community Ehr has courted with campaign ads.
“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 said in a digital ad. “It is time for the lies and the chaos to stop.”
Ehr left college at age 22 to enlist in the Navy as a surface warfare specialist and fire control technician. He eventually became a Naval flight officer and retired as a Navy commander. His 26 years of service included flying reconnaissance missions in combat zones in the Balkans and Desert Storm. In 2017, he returned to Pensacola, where he once was stationed.
2020 isn’t Ehr’s first reach for the political apple. In 2018 he lost by 21 points in the Democratic primary to Jennifer Zimmerman, who went on to lose to Gaetz by a 34-point margin.
Gaetz, meanwhile, is a devout Trump loyalist who is seeking a third term. In recent months, the Fort Walton Beach native has aligned himself more closely to Trump during both their campaigns.
Gaetz is a frequent opener at Trump rallies. In August, he opened for Trump at the Republican National Convention and described the November election as a decision between “strength or weakness, energy or confusion, success or failure.”
“It’s a horror film really,” Gaetz told RNC viewers about “woketopians.”
He continued: “They’ll disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home, and invite MS-13 to live next door.”
Notably, Axios in October ranked Gaetz among the top five Republicans most loyal to Trump in Congress.
Ehr will test the resilience of Trump loyalty on Election Day Tuesday.