Nikki Fried has been dropping completely unsubtle hints about her plans for months. On Tuesday, she made it official, formally declaring her candidacy for Florida governor.
“Listen, this won’t be easy. Those in power will do whatever harm it takes to stay there. But I’ve spent my whole life taking on the system. I’m unafraid. I’m tested. I’m ready,” she said in a video posted on social media. “I’m Nikki Fried, an underestimated Floridian like you. And I’m asking you to break the system by electing me the next governor of the state of Florida.”
Fried filed paperwork early Tuesday afternoon with the state Division of Elections stating that she intends to raise and spend money as a candidate for the Democratic nomination. In her announcement video, released about an hour and a half later, Fried said she was “here to break the rigged system in Florida. It’s corrupt. It’s anti-democratic, and it’s time for something new.”
As the only statewide elected Democrat, Fried has used her job as state agriculture commissioner as a platform to act as an outspoken critic of Gov. Ron DeSantis, whom she has called an “authoritarian dictator.”
When DeSantis boasted last week on Twitter that Florida schools are open with teacher bonuses and allow prayer and feature the Pledge of Allegiance, Fried responded that “Ron’s record” includes raises for himself and his appointees, vaccines for his political donors, blocking free speech and worsening unemployment, voting rights and the environment.
DeSantis has consistently been dismissive of Fried. He ignores her proposals and criticisms.
Still, DeSantis navigated the news cycle in a way that took some attention from Fried. On Monday morning, DeSantis signed legislation keeping transgender girls and women from playing girls’ high school and women’s college sports — allowing him to dominate the news cycle and lessening some of the political news attention that otherwise would have gone to Fried.
The Florida Republican Party criticized Fried in a tweet as someone who resisted DeSantis’ efforts to get schools reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. “She is a lockdown lobbyist who can’t be trusted to make the right decisions for Florida families.”
The Republican Governors Association, the party organization charged with electing and re-electing GOP chief executives, depicted Fried as a second-rate candidate in a statement Tuesday.
“Instead of using her office to work for the people of Florida, Nikki Fried has spent the last 2½ years working to better herself,” RGA spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez said. “Floridians want someone who will fight for them tirelessly, and Fried’s desperate political posturing and reliance on lies and pandering to make a point prove she’s the exact opposite of what Florida needs.”
Fred Guttenberg, the prominent activist against gun violence, tweeted support for Fried shortly after her announcement. “My friend @NikkiFried is running for Florida Governor,” Guttenberg wrote. “Looking forward to doing everything I can to help my Nikki become our next governor.”
Guttenberg became an activist after his daughter Jaime was killed along with 16 others in the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
In the current political era, more and more candidates are announcing their candidacies via video on social media. Fried, 43, also released versions of the video with Spanish and Creole subtitles but eschewed an old-school political rally. (When Crist, 64, announced his candidacy last month, he first released a video then held an in-person kickoff rally in St. Petersburg.)
In her video, Fried described herself as someone who’s “been underestimated my whole life” — like many Floridians, she said — but persevered.
As agriculture commissioner, she said she “cracked the system and got to work, kicking the NRA out of gun licensing to keep our kids safe, restoring rights and confronting historic racism, protecting our farmers and food supply, and cleaning our environment and addressing the climate crisis. So just imagine what we could do if we break the whole rigged system. We could 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. We can build a state that gives power back to you. An economy that rewards hard work with prosperity not poverty or stagnation.”
Fried is the only Democrat to win a statewide election in Florida since 2012, a time frame that saw 11 Republican wins.
It was the first time she sought elective office, and Fried’s victory was extremely narrow — 6,733 votes out of more than 8 million cast. She has never been subjected to the intense scrutiny that comes with running for a high-level office in a major state.
Fried grew up in Miami and lived in Fort Lauderdale before moving to Tallahassee when she became agriculture commissioner. (Her announcement video described her as someone from Miami.)
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If elected, Fried would be the state’s first female governor. She could be seen as the state’s first Jewish governor as well. David Sholtz, who served from 1933 to 1937, was an Episcopalian, but both of his parents were Jewish.
Crist served a term as the state’s Republican governor from 2007 to 2011 and, after becoming a Democrat, narrowly lost the 2014 race for governor. He’s in his third term as a Democratic member of the U.S. House from St. Petersburg.
Crist didn’t comment Tuesday on Fried. His campaign pointed to a May interview on the WFOR-Ch. 4 “Facing South Florida” program in which Crist said of primary opponents: “I’m not here to knock anybody down. I’m here to offer the people a choice.”
The Republican Governors Association said in a statement last week that the Crist-Fried race would be “a popcorn-worthy primary.” It used the popcorn line again on Tuesday.
The field for the Aug. 23, 2022, Democratic primary isn’t final. State Sen. Annette Taddeo of Miami-Dade County is thinking of running. She was Crist’s lieutenant governor pick during his unsuccessful 2014 campaign for governor.