By Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, touting her campaign as “something new” and saying she will fight the “rigged system” in Tallahassee, formally entered the 2022 race for governor on Tuesday.
Fried, an attorney and former medical-marijuana lobbyist who scored a narrow victory in 2018 to become the only statewide-elected Democrat, criticized Republicans’ two-decade hold on Florida government in a video announcing her gubernatorial campaign.
“We can end two decades of corruption designed to block your will and your ballot on health care, wages, education, justice, the environment, marijuana and equality of opportunity,” Fried said in the two-minute video. “We can build a state that gives power back to you, an economy that rewards hard work with prosperity, not poverty or stagnation.”
Fried, who had long been expected to run, must still get through next year’s Democratic primary, which also will include U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla. The winner is expected to take on Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is often listed as a 2024 presidential contender.
Before Fried’s video announcement Tuesday, the Florida Department of State posted online her entry into the race, with Republicans quickly criticizing her.
The Republican Governors Association issued a statement that said “no one is shocked” by her decision.
“Fried has a long slog ahead of her,” the association said. “Despite her desperate attempts to stake a claim and clear the field earlier this year, Fried now has to convince Florida Democrats she’s worthy of their support, all while dodging questions about her personal and financial ties to industries she regulates. Grab your popcorn, because this one is going to be fun to watch.”
The Republican Party of Florida labeled Fried a “lockdown lobbyist” who “tried to close Florida schools and attempted to overturn Governor DeSantis’ executive order to get our kids back in the classroom.”
Fried has been a frequent critic of DeSantis, including calling for a federal investigation into how his administration distributed COVID-19 vaccines and describing as “heartless” his signing Tuesday of a bill that will ban transgender female athletes from competing on high-school girls’ and college women’s sports teams (SB 1028).
In her video, Fried appeared to anticipate the GOP barbs.
“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 said in the video.
Fried’s resume includes being an assistant public defender, a foreclosure defense attorney and a student-body president at the University of Florida.
Fried, 43, entered the race nearly a month after Crist held a sun-splashed event in St. Petersburg to announce he would run for governor for a third time.
Crist, 64, was elected statewide three times as a Republican, including getting elected governor in 2006. He ran an ill-fated campaign in 2010 for the U.S. Senate as an independent, became a Democrat, lost a 2014 bid for governor, then got elected to Congress.
Fried’s political committee, Florida Consumers First, had about $1.51 million on hand as of April 30, according to information posted on the Department of State website. She opened a separate campaign account Tuesday.
Since Crist entered the contest on May 4, his political committee, Friends of Charlie Crist, quickly amassed $746,341 from 41 contributors, according to the committee’s website.
In the same time, Fried’s committee picked up $116,405 through 837 different contributions.
The Democratic field could continue to grow, as state Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, indicated last week she is looking at running for governor. That came after U.S. Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., signaled she would run for U.S. Senate instead of governor.
“With Congresswoman Val Demings pivoting to a likely U.S. Senate campaign, I will continue meeting with supporters across the state to assess the best path for me to do the most good for the people of Florida,” Taddeo said in a statement
Taddeo was Crist’s running mate in 2014 when Crist unsuccessfully tried to topple Republican Gov. Rick Scott. She was elected to the state Senate in a 2017 special election.
Fried’s move will open her Cabinet office in 2022.
Former President Donald Trump has already endorsed Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican who hasn’t entered the contest.