Joe Henderson: Nikki Fried faces long odds, but she has been there before
Image via Colin Hackley.

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She trails Charlie Crist in the polls, and even she wins there, Ron DeSantis will be waiting at the pass. Then again, Nikki Fried doesn't shy away from a fight.

Nikki Fried’s official entry into the 2022 Governor’s race obviously is no surprise. Some might say she has been running for that job since the day she took over as Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner.

But can she win?

Well, sure. This is politics, and anything can happen. Besides, why would she take on something as grueling as a campaign against a popular Governor if she believed otherwise?

That said, she enters this race facing long odds, starting with what could be a tough campaign against Charlie Crist in the Democratic Primary. This isn’t Crist’s first rodeo, you know, and no one is smoother on the campaign trail than genial Charlie.

Also, a St. Pete Polls survey gave Crist a decisive edge over Fried: 55%-22% among likely Democratic voters. The main takeaway from that poll is that Democrats, by a wide margin, don’t believe she can beat Ron DeSantis.

That said, Fried shows the ability to energize supporters in a way Crist does not. Plus, she won’t carry the label of “same ol’, same ol'” in a way that Crist 3.0 might. People know Charlie, which can be equal parts blessing and curse.

It’s no small feat, either, that Fried is the first Democrat since Alex Sink in 2006 to win a statewide race in Florida. Let’s not forget that.

In the 2018 election, Fried ran a focused, disciplined campaign. The Agriculture Commissioner oversees background checks for people who want to purchase guns. Fried smartly hammered home the breach in that area under former Commissioner Adam Putnam.

That was key, especially considering that the awful memory of the Parkland massacre was still fresh in people’s minds.

Fried also championed medical marijuana, which played well with farmers.

However, supporters of DeSantis might actually celebrate her campaign for two reasons.

First, they don’t believe any Democrat can derail the DeSantis juggernaut. He’ll have more money in the bank than he can spend and unlimited free media on Fox. And, in their minds, he has a great story to tell — despite what Fried will say.

And second, Fried’s candidacy could help Republicans retake the Agriculture Commissioner’s post. It’s tough to tell what they would like more — winning that Cabinet position or ridding themselves of Fried. She has been a consistent thorn to DeSantis since she landed in Tallahassee.

Fried is a relentless critic of DeSantis on just about everything. He responded by essentially freezing her out, especially after she took him on over his COVID-19 response.

As the state’s highest-ranking Democrat, Fried’s words carried her to this moment. People paid attention to her jabs, which annoyed DeSantis. She even made Crist sharpen his attacks on the Governor, which is not something Charlie does naturally.

It’s one thing to be an outspoken voice of opposition, though, but quite another to win the Governor’s chair. To that end, Fried has some cards to play.

She got a break when Val Demings decided to run for Marco Rubio’s U.S. Senate seat. That race has the potential to galvanize Democrats in a way few things have, and Fried could benefit from that.

Demings and Fried should join at the hip throughout the campaign. Together, they can drive minority turnout by reminding those voters of the new restrictive DeSantis-backed voting bill. A large turnout would be great news for both Demings and Fried.

And despite DeSantis’ increasing popularity and national profile, he has some vulnerability.

His victory lap on COVID-19 never mentions that nearly 37,000 Floridians died because of the virus.

DeSantis also wielded a heavy hand against local community regulations on the pandemic. The state’s unemployment system melted down during the crisis, leaving thousands of displaced workers in the lurch.

Another potential line of attack on DeSantis is whether he intends to be a four-year Governor if elected to a second term. That 2024 presidential lure might be impossible to resist.

Meanwhile, Fried can go into some of the deepest red rural counties in Florida and maybe find some support there from farmers. Those are the counties where Republicans win statewide elections, often by razor-thin margins. Chipping away at support there could make a difference.

Yeah, it’s a long shot.

Then again, so was the idea that Fried could win a statewide race in the first place.

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


2 comments

  • Alex

    June 1, 2021 at 1:29 pm

    “The main takeaway from that poll is that Democrats, by a wide margin, don’t believe she can beat Ron DeSantis.” Really? Or is it just that Crist has a stronger name ID? Democrats don’t know Nikki yet. They will soon.

  • zhombre

    June 1, 2021 at 3:37 pm

    Neither of them can beat DeSantis.

Comments are closed.


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