Two things at the outset. First, as does everyone who is about to criticize Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Nikki Fried, which is a growing cottage industry, I want to make it clear that I like her personally. She is smart, engaging, and she has never been anything other than nice to me.
Second, I am a firm believer that you oughta dance with them that brung you, and you ought not give up an old friend to make a new friend. I have known Charlie Crist for nigh on three decades, and I am supporting him in his bid for the Democratic nomination for Governor, a race Nikki is also certain to enter, but that bias on my part does not dictate the content of this column.
That said, I do not understand why Nikki has embarked on the course she is on, and I am puzzled by the manner in which she is going about it. The odds are that Ron DeSantis is going to be re-elected Governor, not because he is all that, which he ain’t, but because he is an incumbent, and incumbents are re-elected with clockwork regularity unless they have royally screwed the pooch, which — truth be told — it is not at all clear that DeSantis has.
Nikki is the only statewide elected Democrat in Florida, two years and change on the job and with no previous experience in public office. She is young, telegenic, and energetic. It takes zero imagination to see her as the Democratic front runner four years from now in a 2026 nonincumbent Governor’s race, when she would be just 47 years old with six plus years of experience under her belt and the positive name ID and grass roots organization that comes from hard work over time, provided, that is, she could win re-election as Ag Commissioner in 2022.
And therein may lie the problem as Nikki sees it.
Wilton Simpson, the Trump endorsed Republican President of the Florida Senate, a bona fide farmer, and a man of not insignificant personal wealth, is in the starting blocks for the Ag Commissioner race. Perhaps Nikki thinks her chances of being elected Governor are no worse than her chances of being re-elected, so she might as well be hanged as a lion than as a sheep.
If so, she is wrong. While defeating Simpson in a general election, even without the wear and tear of a Democratic primary contest, would be a tough slog, it would be a walk in the park compared to having to put down former Education Commissioner, former Attorney General, and former Governor Charlie Crist, as well as U.S. Representative Val Demings, another likely Democrat gubernatorial contender who has national chops, only to win the opportunity to face a tanned, rested, and ready DeSantis, who will have more money than God and the Trump base, red in tooth and claw, at his back in an off year election in the first term of a new President, which usually means heavy losses nationally from the top to the bottom of the ticket for the party in the White House — Nikki’s party.
So, no, running for Governor now is not the high percentage play for her. But Nikki has been running for Governor since the day she took the oath of office as Ag Commissioner, excoriating DeSantis for this, that, or whatever day in and day out, which brings me to the question of style. With the passage of time — although not that much time has passed — she has become louder and more acerbic, attempting to bait DeSantis into engaging with her, thereby anointing her as his nemesis and, as a result, making her the Democrat to be reckoned with in 2022. But while the Governor is nowhere near the sharpest knife in the drawer, Ivy League education notwithstanding, he didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday either: he has pretty much ignored Nikki, to her obvious frustration.
That, plus all of the recent attention given to Charlie and Demings by the media, have caused Nikki to jump the shark and, perhaps, the gun. Last week she called DeSantis an autocratic dictator while teasing the announcement of her gubernatorial candidacy on June 1. An autocratic dictator, mind you. Redundancy aside, this is a bit much, even in these hyperbolic times. Such overreach and the seemingly rushed announcement of her candidacy smack of discombobulation, if not desperation. All in all, the vibe is bad. I am reminded of Field Marshal von Moltke’s aphorism that no plan of operations survives first contact with the enemy. But shouldn’t it survive until then?
As long as I am dragging out cliches, timing is everything, a truth to which Charlie can testify in light of his precipitous and unsuccessful plunge into the U.S. Senate race in 2010 rather than seeking re-election as Governor and biding his time. I do not believe this is Nikki’s time. She should do now what Charlie did not do then and play a long game rather than immolating herself on the altar of blind ambition.
Mac Stipanovich was Chief of Staff to former Gov. Bob Martinez and a longtime Republican strategist who is currently registered No Party Affiliation.