MIAMI – Florida Democrats selected former state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried as their new party chair on Saturday, hoping to move past a disastrous midterm performance in the onetime presidential battleground state where high-profile Gov. Ron DeSantis has helped cement Republican control.
Fried, 45, outdistanced former state Sen. Annette Taddeo at a special meeting of party members in suburban Orlando, and will replace Manny Diaz. In his resignation announcement letter last month, he listed a number of problems facing the party, including a lack of resources and volunteers and poor messaging.
Both women had lost their own races last year — Fried to Charlie Crist in the primary for governor and Taddeo to U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar in November.
Within the past few years, Republicans have erased the voter registration advantage in Florida that Democrats held for decades. In the midterm election, longtime Democratic strongholds such as Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties flipped to the GOP, and DeSantis won a landslide reelection victory as he eyes a 2024 presidential bid.
Democrats performed particularly poorly with Latinos in Florida compared with previous years. Miami-Dade, the state’s most populous county, is home to 1.5 million Latinos of voting age.
Fried, whose term as agriculture commissioner wrapped up last month, has pledged to rebuild the party “from the ground up,” with a focus on voter registration. As the only statewide elected Democrat, Fried was a fierce critic of DeSantis, often challenging him on policies related to the COVID-19 pandemic and later on a law critics called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which bars instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
Taddeo, 55, was a state senator from 2017 to 2022. She had said she wanted a year-round effort to register voters without outsourcing that job to other groups and to mobilize young voters. She also says the party must conduct more outreach to Black and Hispanic communities.
Just over a decade ago, President Barack Obama won reelection to the White House after twice carrying the state of Florida. President Donald Trump won the state in the last two elections, carrying Florida by an even larger margin in 2020 than four years earlier.