There's not one, but two Democrats running to unseat Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz in Florida's First District.

Dr. Jennifer Zimmerman, a pediatrician based in Milton, has been campaigning across Northwest Florida since February. While she may have fallen short of collecting the 5,303 signatures needed to appear on the Aug. 28 primary ballot, she is not discouraged. Plan B is to raise $10,440 by May 4.

 

"What people see as a mountain, I see as a distraction," Zimmerman said. "My life has always been a testament to be able to swim upstream. I have a vision that I feel has not been heard yet. I am a woman who does not get discouraged. I am up to the challenge."

Zimmerman — or Dr. Z as she is known to her patients — was born in the Philippines. Her father, James, was a Filipino guerilla fighter against the Japanese occupation during World War II before becoming a POW. Her mother, Corazon, was not allowed to go to school but managed to complete high school and then college while caring for six children. Zimmerman arrived in the United States in 1993 and later moved to Northwest Florida. She practiced medicine in Crestview before starting her own practice in Milton.

Growing up in the Philippines under Dictator Ferdinand Marcos awakened Zimmerman to politics and social affairs, she said. Her big push into politics would not come until 2016.

"Aside from the (presidential) election, I went to the American Academy of Pediatrics convention in San Francisco," she said. "The president of the academy really encouraged us to be advocates for children. I realized somebody has got to talk to make sure that there is a stronger voice for those who don't have a voice. I felt there was a need for that, and that's how I ended up a candidate."

Democrat Phil Ehr, a Navy veteran and former Republican, announced his candidacy last summer.

Republican candidates Cris Dosev and John Mills are running against Gaetz in the GOP primary election.

Gaetz said he believes more choices on the ballot is good for democracy. But he's not so concerned with campaigning.

"I'm more interested in doing the job than campaigning for it," he said Wednesday afternoon while visiting Destin to take a tour of East Pass.

Across the country, there is an increase for women running for public office. Zimmerman said she believes that the female perspective may be "sorely lacking" in politics, but she doesn't want to be recognized just for being a woman.

"You should not be elected just based on your gender. I think you should be elected based on your qualifications regardless of your gender," she said. "But I also believe you should not be discounted for your gender."

According to her campaign website, Zimmerman's priorities include a health care system that works for everyone, strengthening public education and protecting the environment. As a physician, Zimmerman said she believes she can be a voice for people in Congress.

"The fact that I'm embedded in the community, I can bring to Congress real stories, real events, real people," she said. "Not just talking points."

The last time a Democrat was elected to represent Florida's First District was in 1979 with Earl Dewitt Hutto, who served until he retired in 1995. Zimmerman said she thinks it's possible for another Democrat to be elected in the conservative Panhandle. The district includes all of Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Walton and Escambia counties and portions of Holmes County.

"The fears and hopes of a Republican are the same as the fears and hopes of a Democrat," Zimmerman said. "I really would love to get that chance to get people together. I think a qualified candidate who has lived a life of service to the community should have a chance to represent this district."