Nikki Fried to challenge Annette Taddeo for leadership of Florida Democrats

Recent losses at the ballot box aren’t dissuading them from running to chair the state party.

Photo illustration by Jim Rosica/Photos by Joe Raedle and Manny Hernandez for Getty Images

At a time when the Democratic faithful have been calling for change in the state party, the frontrunners for chair of the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) are established figures who flamed out in the last election cycle.

Former state Sen. Annette Taddeo has already entered the race for FDP chair with a host of support, while former Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried announced her candidacy Sunday afternoon in a private call with supporters, Politico Florida reported Monday morning. These former electeds are contenders for the job with the party at its nadir after losing elections by the widest margin in decades. Those defeats, rightly or wrongly, were placed at the feet of then-Chair Manny Diaz, who quit last month. 

Taddeo and Fried ran for governor, but Taddeo dropped out before the Democratic primary to run for Congress, eventually falling to incumbent GOP U.S. Rep. María Elvira Salazar by 14½ points. And Fried went on to lose the Democratic nomination to Charlie Crist by 24½ points. 

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But those losses haven’t dissuaded some from believing they can right the ship. The challenges are daunting: The next FDP chair would be tasked with the seemingly impossible task of reversing statewide voter registration trends that have given Florida Republicans the edge, and energizing Democratic voters to actually show up to vote – all without much financial support from the national party as it prioritizes swing states.

As veteran Democratic strategist Steve Schale recently put it: “If the next chair of the FDP did just two things – register voters, then turn those voters out – at an even marginally successful rate, we should give that person a 10-year contract.”

Fried, Taddeo both coming off recent electoral losses 

In a statement, Fried said she is committed to rebuilding the party and working with the party’s stakeholders on “voter registration, training, and growing our progressive coalitions." 

“Florida Democratic Party Chair was not the path I had originally envisioned for myself, but too much is at stake to sit on the sidelines – from women’s rights, economic opportunity and climate change to affordable housing, protecting our Democracy and education,” she wrote. “We have to unite our diverse voices and refocus on the issues and grassroots organizing that wins elections.”

Taddeo announced her candidacy for chair last month and already has been endorsed by elected officials from across Florida on the local, state and federal levels. Even before she announced, Fried has been endorsed by dozens of committee people representing Democratic voters in counties across the state. The amount of Democratic voters in some of those counties – including Broward, Sarasota, Hillsborough and more – instantly gave her enough weighted votes to be a contender in the race. 

Here’s what that means: Of the over 100 people voting for the chair, including party committee people, elected officials, and caucus leadership, county committee people can carry the largest outsized influence because their votes receive more weight based on the number of registered Democratic voters in their county.

The day after the first round of Fried’s endorsements were announced, Taddeo seemingly took a shot at her in a Twitter thread sharing her own endorsements. “Unfortunately, more often than not, our party leader is picked through backroom deals. We cannot expect new outcomes from the same old tactics,” Taddeo wrote. She did not respond to a request for comment from City & State this weekend.

So far, Fried’s endorsements have not caused any of Taddeo’s supporters to reconsider. Orlando state Rep. Anna Eskamani, who backed Crist against Fried last year, said Taddeo continues to have her full support. “Taddeo has been working on the ground building Democratic power for years, leading her local Democratic Executive Committee and bringing people together from diverse backgrounds to solve problems and deliver results for the people of Florida,” she said.

But Fried’s allies believe she could bring the change that the Florida Democratic Party so direly needs. Reggie Cardozo, Democratic political consultant and friend of Fried, said she would offer leadership that wouldn’t be beholden to the consultant class or the far-left wing of the party. She also has the experience of building up her own staff from her time as agriculture commissioner. “The Democratic Party of Florida needs to be gutted to the ground and built back up. That is something that Nikki has proven she could do,” Cardozo said.

He added that Taddeo doesn’t have the statewide and national political relationships that Fried has, which would hamper her ability to do the job. He pointed out that Taddeo’s endorsements don’t stack up to Fried’s. Taddeo “is rolling out all these endorsements from elected officials with no votes. (Fried) has probably double or triple the votes that Annette Taddeo has,” Cardozo said.

‘We don’t need that as the future of our party’

Fried’s critics attack her poor performance in the gubernatorial primary, her past friendship with Republican member of congress Matt Gaetz, and her past contributions and volunteering for Republican candidates, such as former Senate President Joe Negron.

Eskamani – who publicly beefed with Fried’s then-campaign communications director Keith Edwards as well as Fried herself after Edwards attacked her for endorsing Crist – still does not trust Fried to run the party. Fried “has a history of siding with corporate actors and has actively attacked other Democrats, with her team attacking me online. We don’t need that as the future of our party,” she said.

Ryan Ray, chair of the Leon County Democratic Party, said he was unsure who he would back in the race but wants the party to avoid previous pitfalls. “I believe strongly that the next chair shouldn’t be one with a transactional history of working to elect hardcore Republicans,” he said.

Jon Ausman, former state party vice chair and Florida’s longest serving member of the Democratic National Committee, said neither Fried nor Taddeo offer something different. Both women had an opportunity to advocate for changes to make the party more inclusive of perspectives from across the state, strengthen the party’s centralized data operations and review campaign strategies while they were in office – but didn’t do so, he said. 

“They’ve been involved. They’ve had votes on the state executive committee. I don’t see a history of crying out and saying there needs to be reform. I don’t see them organizing to make the party stronger,” Ausman said.

While the race is likely to drum up further tension within factions of the Florida Democratic Party, some state GOP figures have already pulled out the popcorn. When Fried’s endorsements were announced, Christina Pushaw – the DeSantis political team’s rapid response director – tweeted tongue-in-cheek that a Fried candidacy was “a great idea.” 

And Evan Power, the Republican Party of Florida’s chair of county chairs and a candidate for RPOF chair, tweeted his own sardonic endorsement of Fried. “Nikki is unquestionably the best candidate to keep the Democratic Party headed in their current direction. Her tremendous success of gaining 35.3% in the primary makes her an election juggernaut,” he wrote. 

“I urge the Democrat state committee members to quickly rally around Nikki Fried and make her the next chair. It will be great!”

Contact Tristan Wood at twood@cityandstatefl.com and follow him on Twitter: @TristanDWood

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