Nikki Fried, only statewide elected Democrat, announces run for Florida governor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Speculation about Nikki Fried’s intentions for 2022 ended Tuesday when she officially announced she is running to become the next governor of Florida.

“I’m Nikki Fried, and I’m here to break the rigged system in Florida. It’s corrupt, it’s anti-democratic, and it’s time for something new,” Fried, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture, said in a video posted to Twitter. “Listen, this won’t be easy. Those in power will do whatever harm it takes to stay there. But I’ve spent my whole life taking on this system. I’m unafraid. I’m tested. I’m ready.”

Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat who officially filed to enter the 2022 race Tuesday, has been an outspoken critic of Gov. Ron DeSantis during his tenure.

RELATED | Fried: Gov. DeSantis has lost control of Florida’s COVID-19 response

Fried criticized DeSantis for trying to quash the voice of Floridians by signing bills that make it more difficult to vote, crack down on protests and make it harder for citizens to change the constitution.

“Ron DeSantis has fully embraced the right-wing agenda and authoritarian style of governing that doesn’t fit in the state of Florida,” Fried said in a phone interview. “If you don’t support him or the party, he’s going to stop you from voting. If you disagree with him, he’s going to silence you.”

Fried, 43, will go up against Democrat and former Florida governor Charlie Crist who announced his run in May.

“Charlie is a likable guy. He’s certainly been a strong advocate for his constituents in DC. I hoped that he would stay in that seat,” said Fried, who said she is concerned that Republicans can take the St. Petersburg-area seat he’s giving up. “Charlie is putting his seat and our Democratic majority in jeopardy and I do believe that’s a mistake.”

Republicans issued a statement in response.

“Nikki Fried and Charlie Crist are two peas in an opportunistic pod. Republicans are ready to face whichever Democrat manages to find their way out of the crowded Democrat primary,” RNC Spokesperson Savannah Viar said.

Democratic state Sen. Annette Taddeo of Miami said last week she’s also considering entering the race, Politico reported.

If elected, Fried would become Florida’s first female governor. She’s hoping to be the first Democrat to win a governor’s race since Lawton Chiles was reelected in 1994.

Fried previously worked as a public defender and as a lobbyist for the medical marijuana industry. She was elected student body president while attending the University of Florida.

Fried criticized DeSantis’ handling of the coronavirus pandemic. DeSantis opened up the state last summer and signed orders preventing local governments from issuing mask mandates and restricting businesses.

While DeSantis says his decisions on COVID 19 helped the state’s economy, Fried said he showed no empathy for victims of the virus.

“I would have absolutely done a mandate on masks,” she said. “It’s a piece of cloth over your face. We ask people every day when they get into the car, put on a seatbelt. You can’t walk into a restaurant without a shirt on. This is common sense in following the science, which he never did.”

She said the state’s unemployment system failed early in the pandemic and DeSantis did little to address people’s fears.

“You had people that were scared and this governor did nothing to make them feel safe. He went at this very angry, wanting to prove that he was right,” Fried said. “Instead of being a governor for the entire state of Florida, he was only following the leadership of President Trump and making the pandemic response partisan and that should have never been the case.”

Fried decided not to hold a rally or a news conference to make her announcement, something political experts like Susan MacManus think will play well with the growing younger demographic in the Democratic Party.

“Social media. Videos. Technology, are essential to appealing to a part of the Democratic Party she must absolutely must have vote for her,” a retired USF Political Scientist.

From Dr. MacManus’s view, it makes sense for Fried to take a shot at a higher office.

“Actually, it is worse to stay and place and lose than it is to gamble and lose at a higher level. You keep yourself alive politically if you keep trying to go for a higher office,” MacManus said.

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Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.