Fried to challenge Crist for Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial nomination, right to face DeSantis

Nikki Fried was elected Florida Agriculture Commissioner in 2018 and is the only Democrat to hold a statewide office.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis
(Cliff Hawkins / Getty Images)

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only Democrat to hold statewide office, announced Tuesday she was entering the race to unseat Republican incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis in November 2022.

“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 a video announcing her candidacy. “We can build a state that gives power back to you, an economy that rewards hard work with prosperity, not poverty or stagnation.”

Fried, 43, was a student-body president at the University of Florida, an assistant public defender, a foreclosure defense attorney and a prominent lobbyist for the marijuana industry before running for state agriculture commissioner in 2018.

She is the second Democrat to throw a hat in the 2022 gubernatorial ring.

Former Republican governor and current Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, 64, of Tampa, announced last month he would again run for governor in 2022.

Fried has been harshly critical of DeSantis since both assumed office following the 2018 elections. She has called for a federal investigation into how his administration distributed COVID-19 vaccines and, on Tuesday, called the governor “heartless” for signing a transgender athlete ban into law.

“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.

The Republican Governors Association said “no one is shocked” by Fried’s announcement and said she “has a long slog ahead of her.”

“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,” it said. “Grab your popcorn, because this one is going to be fun to watch.”

The Republican Party of Florida called Fried a “lockdown lobbyist” who “tried to close Florida schools and attempted to overturn Gov. DeSantis’ executive order to get our kids back in the classroom.”

Fried’s Florida Consumers First political action committee (PAC) had $1.51 million in contributions on April 30, according to the state’s Division of Elections. She opened a separate campaign account Tuesday.

Since May 4 when Crist announced his candidacy, his Friends of Charlie Crist PAC has collected $762,503 from 41 donors, according to the PAC. As a federal candidate the last three election cycles, he only re-established a state political committee last month.

More than $300,000 of the contributions come from South Florida donor Barbara Stiefel and attorneys Francoise Haasch and Michael Trentalange, who each wrote $100,000 checks.

During the same span, Fried’s PAC collected picked $116,405 in more than 800 contributions. The largest was a $40,000 donation from the Floridians for Economic Advancement committee.

Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, Crist’s running mate in his failed 2014 gubernatorial bid, said last week she also is pondering a run for governor.