The (possible) race to replace Nikki Fried is already underway
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 10/15/19-Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, speaks with the media after he was designated to become the Senate President starting in Nov. of 2020 through 2022 during the Senate Republican Caucus meeting Tuesday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

Wilton Simpson, Gary Farmer and others are exploring a 2022 campaign for Agriculture Commissioner.

With the 2020 presidential election far from settled, jockeying has already begun for one of Florida’s top statewide posts in 2022.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is widely and increasingly expected to run for Florida Governor, regardless of the outcome of the presidential race. Now, high-profile leaders in both parties are quietly lining up to succeed her as Agriculture Commissioner.

Senate Democratic Leader Gary Farmer is among the Democrats preparing a potential run.

A source close to Fried tells Florida Politics that Farmer recently reached out to Fried’s camp to signal his intent to run for Agriculture Commissioner if she decides to challenge incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis. Sources close to Fried say she has not spoken directly to Farmer about 2022.

Still, Farmer has a pitch for Fried: ‘You’re the model of how to run for Ag Commissioner and not necessarily be from the agricultural community.’

A political consultant who has worked for Farmer and is familiar with the Broward Democrat’s thinking confirms that Farmer has his eye on statewide office.

“Gary has higher office in his sights, especially if it gave him influence over common-sense gun control and cannabis policy, but he’s laser-focused on winning Senate seats right now.”

Farmer is leading the charge for Democrats this cycle just as he readies to take control of the Senate caucus.

Democrats are locked onto two seats in particular — Districts 9 and 39 — as they attempt to flip those Senate seats currently held by term-limited Republicans. Should Democrats hold onto their existing seats, wins in SD 9 and SD 39 would narrow the GOP’s 23-17 edge in the Senate to just a 21-19 advantage.

Farmer’s ambitions, both in 2020 and 2022, put him squarely in the sights of Republicans, who plan to field a heavyweight candidate in 2022 as well.

Senate President-designate Wilton Simpson, as is being reported here for the first time, is also expected to run for Agriculture Commissioner in 2022.

Simpson’s pieces have all fallen into place on the 2020 chessboard — all of his preferred candidates either won or went unchallenged in the primary elections — guaranteeing he will take over for Sen. Bill Galvano following the 2020 election cycle.

Unlike Farmer, Simpson has deep, natural ties to Florida agriculture community. He’s built up a small fortune as an egg farmer and has touted that background during his ascent in the Senate.

“I’m not a politician,” Simpson said upon accepting the Senate President-designate nod in Oct. 2019. “I’m a farmer and entrepreneur.”

His political committee and the Senate campaign arm he chairs have had no trouble raising money and have even started to draw support from the medical marijuana industry — a major industry with a direct interest in who succeeds Fried.

Simpson’s intent to run for Ag. Commissioner is part of the political arithmetic that is prompting Fried to run for Governor rather than reelection.

One path sees Fried seeking the top job in the state against an incumbent who will be judged primarily on his response to the coronavirus pandemic and closeness to President Donald Trump. The other path has Fried defending her position against a well-liked Senate President who has deep roots in the agricultural community, can self-finance, and does not have the vulnerabilities of DeSantis.

The thinking goes that fundraising against DeSantis, especially from national sources, will be easier than relying on state donors who will likely not want to cross a legislative leader.

That’s why Farmer is making these early moves.

But he’s not the only Democrat making plans to run for Ag. Commish if Fried goes forward with a gubernatorial run.

Sources close to Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay say she’s also exploring a run for the Cabinet post.

For her part, McKinlay is not ready to go there.

“I certainly appreciate being among those people are thinking about for 2022. But, I think we need to get through the 2020 election before speculating 2022,” said McKinlay.

Still McKinlay left the door open to a 2022 run.

“It’s certainly no secret I have been laser focused on the rural farming communities in my district and would love to continue fighting for our rural communities, the farmworkers who live and work there, and sustaining Florida’s farming industry while balancing the needs of the environment. How I ultimately decide to go about that? Well, I’m just going to see how things unfold in the coming months. Right now, I’m a County Commissioner dealing with COVID-19 in a hot spot.”

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


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