FL Dems get their first ‘major’ candidate to challenge Sen. Rick Scott: A retired Naval officer

Phil Ehr calls Scott “a coward” in his video announcing his candidacy

By: - July 17, 2023 1:03 pm

A still photo of Phil Ehr’s video announcing his candidacy for U.S. Senate

Phil Ehr, a retired Naval officer and former Republican, announced Monday that he is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican Rick Scott.

This is Ehr’s third bid for office as a Democrat. A resident of Pensacola, in the Panhandle, he lost to U.S. Rep. Republican Matt Gaetz in Florida’s very conservative 1st Congressional District by 30 points in 2020. However, Ehr did raise more than $2 million in that losing effort.  He also lost in a Democratic primary in that same congressional district in 2018.

Ehr was a lifelong Republican but said that he switched to become a Democrat after Donald Trump became the GOP’s presidential nominee in 2016, according to an interview he conducted with WUWF Radio.

“I’ve spent my life on the front lines fighting for American values and protecting our nation against extremism, and I’m running for Senate against Rick Scott to fulfill that same mission,” Ehr said in a press release.

“Extreme politicians like Rick Scott only care about themselves and their ultra rich donors and friends, not middle class Floridians, which is why Scott tried to destroy bedrock programs like Social Security and Medicare that millions of Floridians rely on. Scott has actively participated in Donald Trump’s war on the truth, and just like Ron DeSantis, Matt Gaetz and other MAGA diehards, he’s part of the Axis of Lies that is threatening to tear America apart at the seams. So once again, duty calls — I’m running for U.S. Senate because in the coming battle for our rights, the truth, and our future, Rick Scott is fighting for the wrong side.”

Ehr also links in his press release to a two-minute and twenty second campaign video where he calls Scott “a coward.” He also says in the video that Scott “tried to end Social Security and Medicare,” a reference to Scott’s 12-point plan to “Rescue America” in 2022, which originally called for sunsetting all federal legislation in five years, but was changed earlier this year to include exceptions for “national security, veterans benefits and other essential benefits.”

The ad also shows White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre saying that “Rick Scott oversaw the biggest Medicare fraud in history,” a reference to the $1.7 billion Medicare fraud fine that Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. received when he served as that hospital chain’s CEO from 1987-1997.

Ehr spent 26 years in the U.S. Navy, according to his LinkedIn biography.  Scott is also a Navy veteran, according to his U.S. senator bio.

While there are a handful of Democrats who have entered the U.S. Senate race, none so far are considered major candidates who can raise significant sums of cash to compete next year against Scott.  The Democrat with the most name recognition, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, told the Phoenix that he is currently just “exploring” a candidacy, and has not committed to a full-out run.

Other Democrats who are considering a run include Brevard County School Board member Jennifer Jenkins, Democratic House leader Fentrice Driskell and former South Florida Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. And there may be more candidates announcing as the primary is not for 13 more months.

Whomever the Democrats nominate, he or she will be considered an underdog — in part because of Scott’s millions of dollars and also because of the changing demographics for voter registration — despite the fact that Scott has never won an election in Florida by more than a single percentage point.

Observers also note that Scott has never ran his three previous races (for governor in 2010 and 2014 and U.S. Senate in 2018) in a presidential election year, when more Democrats traditionally come out to vote. However, in all three of those races, there were far more registered Democrats than registered Republicans as part of the Florida electorate. Republicans surpassed Democrats in voter party registration in 2021, however, and now have a 541,798 lead over Democrats.

In his press release announcing his candidacy, Ehr cites a poll that shows him just 5 percentage points behind Scott, 43%-38%. The poll was conducted by Change Research of 1,298 likely 2024 voters in Florida that was conducted between June 27-29.

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Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018.