A Look Ahead: Nikki Fried’s 2022 Decision Could Decide the 2024 GOP Nomination — On the Record

ERIC BAZAIL EIMIL –– If you were ever planning on running statewide in Florida, you’d want to be exactly where Nikki Fried is right now as the 2022 elections approach.

Nikki Fried, the young, telegenic, Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner is the only statewide elected Florida Democrat, and she’s flexing that political muscle. As the de facto leader of the Florida Democratic Party, she’s been everywhere on the news as Republican Governor Ron DeSantis continues to fumble and stumble through the state’s response to COVID-19, winning national and statewide plaudits for holding DeSantis to the fire. Before the outbreak, almost every major candidate sought her endorsement for President this year . In Florida, the GOP has taken her seriously.

Their concerted efforts to limit her statewide power have largely failed. From their fury at her for releasing stickers featuring her face to be placed on every single gas pump in the state in order to stop gas skimming to their unprecedented responses to her public criticisms of the Governor’s response , Republicans in Florida are focusing far more on Nikki Fried than they are on Joe Biden.

But why focus on her specifically? Why waste breath when Florida is up for grabs in 2020 and the President’s approval ratings are underwater thanks to his weak national response to coronavirus? Why expend energy on Fried when there’s seats up for grabs in Florida that either party could flip?

Because they know that Governor DeSantis and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), in addition to Senator Rick Scott (R-FL), are all considering running for President in 2024 . Rick Scott already got the ball rolling with a pro-Trump ad about impeachment that he ran in Iowa right as the Democrats were touring the state.

Florida Republicans know that in 2024, the state will be an even bigger prize for whichever party can claim it. With more electoral college votes on the line, having appeal in the state will matter tremendously for the party’s chances of winning that election and all three of these prominent Florida Republicans know that they have immediate appeal in the eyes of national GOP donors and the establishment. Plus, a Florida Republican as president would boost the power of the state party massively.

And DeSantis and Rubio have to win re-election in 2022 to remain viable for a 2024 run.

Thus, Nikki Fried comes into the frame. Whoever she challenges will face a strong Democratic rival with a statewide presence. Fried, who has won plaudits both from progressives and moderates in the state for fighting polluters and standing up for voting rights and consumer rights, would handily win her primary. She would easily be able to raise the funds necessary for her race, thanks to her growing role as a key down-ballot fundraiser and her connections to the national party . Plus, Scott, the perennial underdog of Florida statewide politics , won’t be on the ballot until 2024 for sure, so Fried won’t have to worry about out-raising Scott and his vast personal wealth or his popularity in the state.

But what impact could she have? Chiefly, eliminating opposition for Scott to run for President in 2024, but also, changing the dynamics for that primary.

If she runs for Governor and defeats DeSantis, Scott will become a significant and formidable contender for the nomination with greater resources and statewide appeal than his Senate colleague, though would have to compete with Rubio for national donors and backing from top national Republicans. If she runs for Senate and defeats Rubio, DeSantis, whose charisma and camera-friendly family will serve as a stark contrast to the oft-compared-to-Voldemort Scott, will make Scott’s work more difficult to consolidate his Florida base. However, Scott would be able to consolidate support from the national establishment easily, given DeSantis’ lack of a national political presence. Even if she loses, whoever she challenges will be significantly weakened by the race, which will probably be one of the most-watched in the 2022 cycle with millions spent on both sides. Rick Scott keeps on keeping on, with little relative loss either way and everything to gain.

Fried is definitely running for higher office in 2022 (nobody puts their face on a statewide sticker without having bigger ambitions) and within a year, expect to see her gearing up for an announcement, hiring staff, and flexing her status as a Democratic rising star. Yes, it’s too soon to definitively tell what Fried’s deck of cards will be — after all, this all will depend on the outcome in 2020 and the aftermath of COVID-19. But if you’re looking ahead, she, rather ironically, might be the game-changer for Republicans. And if I were Rick Scott, I’d pray she ends up winning the fight she picks in 2022.

Eric Bazail Eimil is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service studying Latin American and European Politics. When not doing his IR readings, you can often find him obsessing over the weirdness of his home state of Florida and its politics.

Originally published at https://ontherecordgu.com on April 9, 2020.