As early voting in House District 2 wraps up and residents of Escambia and Santa Rosa counties gear up for Tuesday's GOP primary to replace the late Clay Ford, the candidate vying to become the Florida House's only black Republican says his campaign's internal polling has him leading by double digits.
The polling at the very beginning first showed me as an underdog, but that gap closed week by week till we took a lead, and now the polling is showing us with a double-digit lead, State Farm insurance agent and tea party leader Mike Hill reveals to Sunshine State News. We're pleased with that, but we're not taking anything for granted. We're still working like we're in a double-digit lead behind.
Hill's apparently referring to his own campaign's internal polling. When pressed, he admits he's not studied any poll results and is relying on information conveyed to him by his campaign managers and consultants. Three weeks ago, St. Pete Polls found Hill closing the gap between himself and then front-runner Ed Gray, the former mayor of Gulf Breeze.
If accurate, this development is the latest in a campaign that's had its fair share of ugly moments between the two candidates.
Hill, 54, is a small-business owner (an Allstate insurance agent of 23 years), Air Force veteran, and tea party leader who's received a string of prominent statewide and local endorsements.
His supporters include Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala (the legislative father of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law and former head of the Christian Coalition of Florida); Bill Herrle, Florida executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB); Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan; Santa Rosa Tea Party head Sharon Glass; and the editorial board of the Pensacola News Journal. Hill is president of the Northwest Florida Tea Party and sits on the board of directors of Integrity Florida, a bipartisan government accountability watchdog.
Gray, 61, has been involved in public service for more than 20 years. He served on the Gulf Breeze City Council from 1980 to 1984, then as mayor from 1984 to 1992. He served on the Santa RosaCounty School Board from 2002 to 2010, and since 1984 has been executive director of Gulf Breeze Financial Services and the Capital Trust Agency, in which capacity he loans bond revenues (on behalf of the cities of Gulf Breeze and Century) to local governments and private nonprofit entities.
According to a Journal report, that experience has earned Gray wide name recognition in the district, and the backing of several prominent local business andgovernmentpersonalities, including Republican fundraiser and businessman Collier Merrill, attorney Jim Reeves, philanthropist Teri Levin and Pensacola City Council member Brian Spencer.
Jack Nobles, 60, served on the Pensacola City Council from 1994 to 2009, and two years ago retired from a 35-year career in the banking industry, having been a senior executive with Coastal Bank & Trust and the Bank of Pensacola. He has received the endorsement of Pensacola's two previous mayors, Mike Wiggins and John Fogg, and boasts an A rating from the National Rifle Association.
This race been a lot of fun for me; I've enjoyed going door-to-door and talking to people, and getting to know some people I didn't know before, Nobles tells SSN. There are some who have been battling it out, but as for me, I'm really enjoying it.
Battling it out might be something of an understatement.
As SSN previously reported, mailers published by a conservative electioneering communications organization (ECO) called the Committee for a Better Florida targeted both Gray and fellow candidate Jack Nobles, a former Pensacola city councilman, as career politicians and deal makers, and alleged they "raised our taxes and our fees" and "spent our tax dollars on big boondoggles.
Similar accusations against Gray have been leveled in TV ads produced by another ECO called the Committee to Protect Florida, and a complaint filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics claims Gray failed to file financial disclosure forms when he left the Santa Rosa School Board, as state law requires.
Gray did not return requests for comment before this story went to press.
Hill insists that his campaign has nothing to do with the negative advertisements, though he endorses their essential content.
My impression is that what these ads do is point out some of the poor public policy decision-making they've done in the past, which affects a lot of people, Hill tells SSN. I think it's good that voters are made aware of those decisions, because if that's been done in the past, it's likely they'll do it again in the future. People are tired of career politicians who make those decisions. That game is over.
I never thought negative campaigning did anybody any good, Nobles counters. When you start talking about another candidate, that just means you can't say anything good about yourself. I've got plenty of good things to say about me, and nothing bad to say about any of my opponents.
Nobles argues his 14-year political career is actually one of the greatest assets he brings to the table: The best politics in the world is local: you get to know what people think, you get to know what their needs are, and who they are.
Hill's reception by heads of his district's two other tea party organizations is mixed. Pensacola Tea Party leader John Baker says he's seen little of Hill, and voted for Gray, whom he also doesn't know, as a protest against campaign negativity. On the other hand, Santa Rosa Tea Party leader Glass can't speak highly enough of Hill.
Asked what distinguishes him from his opponents, Hill cites his military background, his small-business experience -- he also serves on the board of directors of Florida NFIB -- A ratings from the NRA and Florida Right to Life, and his standing as a political outsider. Hill also touts his endorsement of Gov. Rick Scott's push to eliminate the state corporate income tax.
A zero-percent corporate tax rate would attract so many businesses to Florida that it will cause an economic boom in terms of the people it would draw here, the construction, the purchases that would need to be made to support that, and the people coming in," he explains. "I see nothing but a win-win."
We're all pretty much conservative Republicans: I'm pro-gun, I'm pro-life, and I believe in smaller, more efficient government, Nobles says when asked the same question. To me, I've got the best of all of it: I've got business experience, I've got experience in politics, and because I'm retired I've got time to do the job.
Nobles echoes Hill's call to eliminate the corporate income tax, but insists doing so doesn't go far enough in addressing the state's economic needs.
Companies ask, 'What can you give us, why should we move to Florida?' We tell them, 'We can save you on property taxes for a year.' he explains. But other states are giving them property and giving them tax breaks, and helping them find considerable employment. They're also working on training for their businesses; Florida's not doing ay of these things.
We're surrounded by states that are very pro-business, and we're not.
The other candidates in the HD 2 race are:
-- Gulf Breeze political strategist Scott Miller, a first cousin to Sen. Greg Evers, R-Pensacola; his campaign has emphasized gun rights.
-- David Radcliffe, a property insurance agent and landlord who has emphasized the need to reform Citizens Property Insurance Corp.
-- Mark Taylor, an insurance inspector who is emphasizing education reform. Taylor started selling real estate when he was in high school, and prides himself on his business success, despite having never attended college.
Tuesday's primary winner is expected to cruise to an easy general election victory in this Republican-heavy district on June 11.
Reach Eric Giunta at email@example.com or at (954) 235-9116.