Two years after Rep. Michelle Salzman unseated him, former Rep. Mike Hill is eyeing a rematch in the Republican Primary for Pensacola’s House District 1.
Hill, an outspoken conservative Republican, made national headlines for controversies during his five years in the House. But Republicans and Democrats alike don’t want Hill to return this November.
Republican leadership sidelined Hill in 2019 after a recording showed him laughing off a suggestion about stoning gay people. Gov. Ron DeSantis sided with House leadership in the incident, and Hill eventually issued a non-apology.
Hill served two and a half terms in the House, from 2013 to 2016 in House District 2 and from 2018 to 2020 in HD 1.
Salzman edged out Hill in 2020 with 52% of the vote after receiving support from GOP leaders and conservative organizations. The freshman Republican is recreating that support this time around with endorsements from the National Rifle Association, Americans for Prosperity, the Florida Professional Firefighters and the Police Benevolent Association. House Speaker-designate Paul Renner also endorsed Salzman.
As the establishment-backed incumbent, Salzman is expected to win the Primary. Whoever wins the contest will face Franscine Mathis, a Democrat who has raised little more than $2,000 so far.
Despite his uphill battle, Hill, who filed to run the week of the qualifying deadline, remains competitive. In less than two months of campaigning, he has raised $40,000. The bulk of his expenditures so far have been on mailers. But by comparison, Salzman has more than $100,000 on hand between her campaign account and political committee.
Hill has been a successful underdog before. During his return to the House in 2018, he overcame a fundraising and polling deficit to squeak out 48% in the Republican Primary, enough to win the nomination by just 3 points.
HD 1 was an open seat being vacated that year by term-limited Rep. Clay Ingram, making the three-way contest anyone’s game. Even though the district lines have changed slightly, Salzman still holds an advantage as the incumbent.
Moreover, Hill may have racked up one too many scandals. On top of his anti-LGBTQ association, he spurred controversy amid the coronavirus pandemic by refusing to help a constituent who was struggling with the collapsed online unemployment system. The incident came 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 the help of FedEx.
Hill also went on the offensive during the 2020 race, 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. Salzman filed official complaints describing the mailers as misleading.
Then there’s Hill’s 2018 claim he was bringing then-President Donald Trump’s star from the Hollywood Walk of Fame to Pensacola.
Salzman’s campaign had a strong close in 2020, 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. By Election Day, she had outraised him $98,000 to $88,000 and outspent him by $15,000.
Unlike Hill, Salzman is still in the Governor’s good graces. She frequently appears with DeSantis whenever he visits the district, as she did during his event on Wednesday.
In two years, Salzman has passed five bills, including a bill that will give Pensacola firefighters the same pension plan and will extend death benefits to surviving spouses who remarry.
While in office, Hill sponsored legislation like a heartbeat abortion ban, a bill protecting Confederate monuments, a firearms bill removing Florida’s red flag law and more. None of those measures passed the Republican-led Legislature. Neither did any of the bills he sponsored in the 2018 to 2020 term.