ERIC BAZAIL-EIMIL: When Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried announced she would be releasing an important video the morning of Tuesday, February 16th, all eyes quickly were on the only statewide elected Democrat in the state. Since her upset victory back in the 2018 elections, the young and telegenic Fried has become the de facto political leader of the Florida Democratic Party and the hope of many activists eager to remove Republican Ron DeSantis from the Governorship. And as I wrote back in April 2020, she has long been to run for either Senate or Governor in the 2022 midterms.
Many Florida movers and shakers, from commentators and journalists to activists to Republican and Democratic operatives and donors, immediately braced for the news of a potential Fried 2022 bid when she announced the video. Allies of Governor DeSantis even went so far as to send out fundraising emails asking grassroots contributors to “help end Fried’s campaign before it even starts.”
But all the buzz ended up being for nothing. Fried released a video criticizing DeSantis for his callousness towards Floridians and the suffering they’ve experienced amid a pandemic and telling Floridians that “they are loved” and that “Florida can, and will, do better.”
Make no mistake, Nikki Fried is going to run for higher office in 2022. This video just wasn’t designed to be that announcement.
Instead, this video was intended to send a clear signal: this is my primary race to lose, and I’m not planning on going down easily.
Since this past summer, Fried has seen her star tarnish as reports emerged of a domestic dispute between her and her partner that saw three aides leave her inner circle, and some in the party question Fried’s readiness for a larger platform in the party. She also came under fire by some progressive voices in the party, including many interested in the prospect of State Representative Anna Eskamani (D-Winter Park) running for Governor, for not avidly supporting the 15/hr minimum wage increase amendment that passed in the 2020 general election.
In April 2020, she was the frontrunner, but a baker’s dozen of candidates have now emerged.
It includes previous candidates for Governor, like former Republican Governor/Independent Senate Candidate in 2020/Gubernatorial candidate for the Democrats in 2014 and current Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL) (nota bene: keep your eyes on an explainer piece specifically about Charlie Crist’s long and confusing career in Florida politics) and 2018 contender and daughter of former Governor and Senator Bob Graham, Rep. Gwen Graham (D-FL). It includes centrist and moderate members of Florida’s legislature and U.S. congressional delegation, like U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), and State Sen. Annette Taddeo and Jason Pizzo. It includes national talent like Rep. Val Demings and former Rep. Debbie Mucarsell-Powell, both of whom are considering runs for the Senate. It includes mayors like Jane Castor of Tampa, Buddy Dyer of Orlando, and former Miami Beach Mayor Phillip Levine. It’s a lot to keep track of and certainly represents that Fried won’t be receiving a coronation in the August 2022 primary.
In comes the video. With her position in danger, Fried needed a clear first move to send a signal to her rivals. And it has succeeded. Fried’s video has given her a needed publicity boost. Her follower count on Twitter surpassed 55,000, an impressive feat for an often-overlooked Cabinet office. National interest has returned to the race. The spook DeSantis’s team experience belies their worries about the sustainability of his political trajectory within the state, especially as he explores a 2024 Presidential campaign.
Florida Democrats will face an existential battle for party identity in this election, as moderates and progressives duke it out and relitigate many of the questions that national Democrats prosecuted in the 2020 presidential primary. Electability, the ability to turn out swing voters, voters of colors, and young people, and having a proven track record against a shockingly popular Republican governor will all figure into the equation.
The challenge isn’t lost on the contenders either. As potential rival Gwen Graham it: “Can we win in 2022? It’s going to be tough. Of course, it’s possible.”
As Florida Democrats begin debating these questions, Fried is by no means a clear or distinct frontrunner in this race, either in the primary or the general. But undoubtedly, it is still her primary to lose. Especially as the race heats up, Fried is the player to watch as she makes her first moves and launches her campaign.
Eric Bazail-Eimil is a second-year student in the School of Foreign Service studying Latin America and Africa as a Regional and Comparative Studies major. A native South Floridian and a proud Cuban-American, Eric’s column “The Florida Project” appears biweekly in “On the Record.”
Originally published at https://ontherecordgu.com on February 22, 2021.