Nikki Fried jumps into race to lead Florida Democrats

Nikki Fried

By Gary Fineout 

She’s in— Nikki Fried, the last Democrat to win a statewide election in Florida, is jumping into the crowded contest to lead the Florida Democratic Party.

Reversal— The state’s former agriculture commissioner announced her decision in a late Sunday afternoon call with nearly 60 Democrats who can vote in the race for a new party chair. It’s a bit of a turnabout for Fried, who had said late last year that she was not interested in the post as Florida Democrats grew frustrated over their crushing defeat in the midterms.

In her words— “My decision is not one made lightly,” Fried said in a statement shared with Playbook. “It comes after months of listening to friends, advisors and Democrats across the state. Florida Democratic Party chair was not the path I had originally envisioned for myself, but too much is at stake to sit on the sidelines — from women’s rights, economic opportunity and climate change to affording housing, protecting our democracy and education.”

How we got here— Democrats are scheduled to meet later this month to designate a new leader after Manny Diaz abruptly resigned as chair in early January following an election that saw Gov. Ron DeSantis win reelection by nearly 20 points and Democrats get routed in legislative and congressional contests.

And then there were five— Fried joins four other candidates who have already announced their bids for chair, including former state Sen. Annette Taddeo. Taddeo, who unsuccessfully challenged Rep. María Elvira Salazar in November, has already picked up support from many key Democrats, including state legislators and several congressional members, including Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Backing Fried— But there has been a faction of Democrats — many of them who have votes on the state’s executive committee — who did not support the other candidates, and last week a group of them urged Fried to join the race. Fried supporters now have a list of nearly 40 voting members who are backing her accounting for 350 out of the 578 votes needed to win.

Still could be a spirited contest— Fried, however, may have to overcome misgivings that some in the progressive community have about her and whether she is too close to some of the state’s corporate interests.

Where’s she coming from— Fried mounted an unsuccessful bid for governor last year where she lost decisively in the Democratic primary to Charlie Crist. In the aftermath of her loss, Fried said she was starting a new political committee called “Won’t Back Down” that planned to help female candidates who supported abortion rights and try to get an abortion rights measure on the 2024 ballot. It’s not clear what will happen to those efforts now.

Challenges — Whoever wins the eventual contest for chair will have to grapple with a significant fundraising disadvantage as well an ever-growing voter registration gap Republicans are building. When he stepped, down Diaz sharply criticized national Democrats for raising money from Florida donors but then failing to direct that money to help with state operations. He also faulted Democratic legislative campaign organizations for focusing “exclusively” on their candidates and not helping the party.

Promises— In her statement, Fried vowed to “rededicate ourselves to voter registration, training and growing our progressive coalitions. I am determined to rebuild the trust of national committees and I will dedicate the full weight of the party to quality candidate recruitment and to reforming our antiquated weighted vote system and bylaws which too often exclude rather than includes.”

About Carma Henry 21625 Articles
Carma Lynn Henry Westside Gazette Newspaper 545 N.W. 7th Terrace, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33311 Office: (954) 525-1489 Fax: (954) 525-1861

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