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2020/2022

‘Slap to the face of democracy’: Nikki Fried blasts Matt Caldwell, GOP use of third party candidates

Fried accused the GOP of ‘dirty politics, lies, and fraud.’

Democrat Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried chastised Republicans Tuesday after one official admitted to using third-party candidates as spoilers in tight races.

In the email sent to Florida GOP state committee members, Lee County Property Appraiser Matt Caldwell credited “many” Republican victories to third-party candidates who have helped lure votes from Democratic candidates.

The strategy isn’t new, but it faces increased scrutiny now after the Florida GOP dominated the 2020 elections.

“It’s such a slap to the face of democracy that Republicans feel that the only way they can win is by playing dirty politics and by trying to confuse the electorate,” Fried told Florida Politics. “They can’t win on their record so they’re trying all these other tools.”

Notably, Caldwell ran against Fried for Agriculture Commissioner in 2018 and lost narrowly. In the email, he blamed the loss on the party’s political strategy and the “lack of any 3rd party candidate.”

Fried, who now ranks as the state’s top elected Democrat, described Caldwell’s take as unbecoming.

“It is really a disgraceful comment from somebody who wanted to be in the Florida Cabinet,” she said.

Perhaps no one in 2020 was more impactful than no party affiliated candidate Alex Rodriguez in SD 37. He pulled in just under 3% of the vote in the razor-thin South Florida race, enough to deliver the seat to the GOP.

Former SD 37 Democratic Sen. José Javier Rodríguez alleged foul play in the contest. The Senator’s team accused Republicans of recruiting a spoiler NPA candidate — who shared a last name with the incumbent — as a way to siphon votes from the Democratic candidate.

The former Democratic Senator lost to Republican candidate Ileana Garcia by 28 votes.

Caldwell’s email comes amid rumors that he will challenge Joe Gruters for state party chair. He also serves as Lee County’s Republican Committeeman, making him eligible for the job.

Speaking to Florida Politics, Caldwell did not dismiss a run, but he did express some reservations.

Meanwhile, most prognosticators believe Fried will run for Governor in 2022.

She contended that candidates should be held accountable for their actions and called for more investigations into ethical complaints.

She lamented, however, that ethics hearings can take years to complete, far after “the damage has already been done” in most cases.

“They have historically used dirty politics, lies, and fraud on the electorate to win,” Fried alleged.

Written By

Jason Delgado is a state capital reporter at Florida Politics. After serving in the U.S. Army, Jason attended the University of Central Florida where he studied American Policy and National Security. His past bylines include WMFE-NPR and POLITICO Florida. You can reach him at jason@floridapolitics.com or on Twitter at @_JasonDelgado.

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