Nikki Fried campaign feeling 'validation' in primary's closing days

'I'm not a career politician,' Fried says. 'I haven't been doing this for 30 years.'
Posted at 12:51 PM, Aug 20, 2022

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is confident she'll win the Democratic nomination for governor next Tuesday. That's despite lacking the funds, endorsements and consistent polling of her primary opponent, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist.

Fried sat down with Capitol reporter Forrest Saunders earlier this week to explain where she's getting that optimism.

One of the biggest reasons is the new University of North Florida poll. The 1,600+ registered Florida voters surveyed in early August gave Fried a four-point lead over Crist, outside the poll's margin of error.

Pundits have called it an outlier. Opponents dismissed it as a fluke. Plus, Crist's internal polling shows him with a sizable lead of his own.

Even so, Fried's campaign has rallied around it. Unable to afford their own polls, the UNF results are, in Fried's words, "validation."

"Validation for everything that we have been saying, everything that we've been feeling on the ground, our campaign strategy," Fried said.

That strategy is to paint Fried as "something new" — raise her name recognition in the race's final weeks with the belief that knowing her is voting for her.

"I'm not a career politician," Fried said. "I haven't been doing this for 30 years. You know, every day, I'm checking my own social media feed and I'm responding to people and I'm interacting and I'm listening."

But Fried is also attacking. Since the overturn of national abortion protections, her campaign has pivoted to a major focus on Crist's abortion record. Fried has questioned whether the party can trust the former Republican to protect the right to choose.

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Crist has called Fried's attacks dishonest. He touts his congressional record, Planned Parenthood rating and backing from many of Florida's biggest abortion advocates.

"She's desperate and she's flailing about trying to do something to resurrect herself," Crist told Saunders on Tuesday. "And I'm sorry to see it. I feel for her."

The typical metrics alone suggest it might be Crist's race to lose. Polls aside, he has big-name endorsements from high-ranking party members and labor unions. Also, more money is in the bank. The latest finance data from the state shows him with about $2.6 million on hand. Fried's last report from Aug. 5 had her with just over $1 million.

Crist is also well into planning for an expected fight with DeSantis. He told Saunders his campaign is planning a $20 million media barrage after the primary.

The popular GOP incumbent, meanwhile, has amassed a huge war chest of more than $130 million. It's a staggering amount that Fried hopes can be offset by an upset next week.

"Once we win this primary, the excitement, the momentum that we get on Aug. 24, the rest of the country gets woken up to see who is Nikki Fried," Fried said. "And that energy that we have seen now all throughout the state now carries us nationally. The donors will be here, the $5 donations across the country, because Ron DeSantis is enemy No. 1."