(The Hill) — Florida Democrats tapped former state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried as their new chair on Saturday, tasking her with revamping a once-formidable state political party that has struggled to stay competitive in recent years.
Fried, a lobbyist who unsuccessfully challenged former Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) for the Democratic gubernatorial nod last year, beat out three other prominent Democrats – former state Sen. Annette Taddeo, progressive activist Carolina Ampudia and Broward County Democratic Party Chair Rick Hoye – in a vote by the party’s executive committee.
She’ll go on to succeed former Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz, who abruptly resigned last month following a disastrous 2022 midterm election for the party in Florida.
Fried entered the chair race less than two weeks ago after previously saying she wasn’t interested in the job. But she quickly racked up a long list of influential supporters and emerged as one of the contest’s frontrunners alongside Taddeo.
In taking the role, Fried will have one of the least-envied jobs in Florida politics. The state Democratic Party has struggled for years with financial shortfalls, rampant infighting, lackluster voter registration efforts and a floundering organizing program.
While Democrats say that the party’s problems aren’t new, they’ve become clearer in recent years. Republicans overtook Democrats in registered voters in late 2021 – and that advantage has only continued to grow. The latest voter registration numbers out of the state show that there are now over 400,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats.
The 2022 midterms were also punishing for Democrats in Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) won reelection by a 19-point margin, while Republicans were handed a supermajority in the state legislature. For the first time in over a century, there’s not a single Democrat in statewide elected office.
Fried was the last Democrat to win statewide when she was elected agriculture commissioner in 2018.
Turning the Florida Democratic Party around won’t be easy. It’s down to only a skeletal staff and is in need of a fundraising boost. The 2024 presidential election is also fast approaching, and the GOP’s eventual nominee could very well end up being a Floridian; former President Donald Trump is running for the White House once again and DeSantis is said to be actively preparing for a presidential bid.