Over the next two months, Joe Biden’s vice presidential selection committee will be tasked with finding a candidate that can gel with the nominee and help him win back the White House from President Donald Trump. It’s no secret that road runs through Florida.
Biden’s selection team will work to “conduct conversations across the party as well as work with a network of vetting teams,” according to the news release. Biden’s shortlist is a work in progress, with uncertainty running rampant in political circles. And while the payoff to this political draft is pending, one thing remains certain: Biden’s right-hand man won’t have a Y chromosome.
That in mind, many top political analysts have signaled that Biden will choose a marquee name to help round out his ticket — someone like Senator Kamala Harris or Senator Elizabeth Warren.
While it’s highly possible that Biden picks a prominent female or a woman of color, he also could go off script and pick a young, up-and-coming star in the Democratic Party.
Enter Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.
While the thought of Fried being Biden’s No. 2 may seem far-fetched to some, unconventional picks aren’t exactly rare in American politics (see U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, and U.S. Representative Geraldine Ferraro, none of which were plucked from the traditional presidential grooming grounds of governor’s mansions or the U.S. Senate).
Here are three reasons why Fried could find herself being embraced by Biden.
1) They Have a Strong Working Relationship
Fried’s budding relationship with Biden dates back to the 2018 elections where the former vice president endorsed Fried in her race for Florida Agriculture Commissioner. The nod came during the last election cycle when Democrats in Florida were calling for a massive “Blue Wave” to sweep through state.
I’m proud to have @JoeBiden‘s support in the race for Agriculture Commissioner.
From background checks on guns to water quality—this position is more than agriculture, it’s key to Florida’s future.
With just 12 days left, we need your support to keep spreading our message!
— Nikki Fried (@nikkifried) October 25, 2018
The endorsement came two years ago at the “Winning Ticket Rally” in Orlando, where Barack Obama’s VP appeared alongside congressional members and party leaders to sell Floridians on a unified ticket that was supposed to reverse a 20-year losing streak in the state and lead to a Democratic uprising.
“Nikki Fried will be a great Commissioner of Agriculture and I am proud to support her,” Biden said at the rally. “She will ensure complete background checks on gun permits, be a fighter for the farmers who have been left behind under the current trade war, and protect Florida’s waterways for generations to come.”
In the end, the tidal wave never materialized, and Fried barely managed to squeeze past Matt Caldwell by a few thousand votes to become a Democrat anomaly in Florida’s otherwise Republican state government.
But that victory gave Florida’s political left something to cling to, with Democrats across the state rallying behind their statewide champion. More importantly, the narrow win catapulted the first woman in state history elected as the commissioner of agriculture into the spotlight and lent credence to Biden’s seal of approval.
From here, the Fort Lauderdale attorney and former marijuana lobbyist would become the face of the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) — both at the gas pump and in the media.
As the 2020 Presidential Primary swept closer to Florida, Fried would get more involved in the political arena, attending the February Democratic debate in Las Vegas and meeting with most of the candidates behind the scenes. Speculation ramped up about who she might endorse for President. With Biden trailing in the early days, many suspected she might back the surging Mike Bloomberg, with his billion-dollar warchest, the thinking went, he’d be a valuable ally for Fried to call upon later.
But she kept her powder dry. As the field dwindled, she remained relatively silent, waiting on the sidelines as news outlets speculated who she would endorse.
A month later, with Bloomberg fading, Florida’s top Democrat reciprocated Biden’s prior support by officially endorsing him weeks before Sen. Bernie Sanders ended his presidential bid. In a prepared statement, Fried heaped praise for the former vice president, saying “Joe’s record of selfless service is exactly what we need to restore America’s moral compass, heart, and leadership at home and abroad.”
But the lovefest didn’t stop there.
Before Biden ran away with Florida and claimed the nomination, Fried doubled-down on her endorsement, cutting a last-minute ad for the future nominee.
Today is primary Election Day in Florida. Your voice is important.
Steady leadership matters now more than ever. That’s why I’m voting for @JoeBiden.
Joe’s experience is what we need during these difficult times.
So Florida, vote today — and stay safe at the ballot box. pic.twitter.com/OA02NiUy2l
— Nikki Fried (@nikkifried) March 17, 2020
She also tapped her political committee to blast out an email urging support for Biden:
“We must and can defeat Donald Trump in the most important election of our lifetimes. The time for unity is now and the candidate to unite behind is Joe Biden,” the email from her Florida Consumers First political committee said.
Biden, of course, would go on to rise to the top of the ticket, and Fried’s political stock within the Democratic camp would follow suit.
Fried’s loyalty to the Democratic frontrunner would culminate in what could be the biggest tell that Biden is ready to go all-in with the cannabis advocate.
Earlier this week, the presumptive presidential nominee hosted a virtual fundraiser alongside Fried. The big event took place on April 29, with over close to 200 attendants in Florida. Fried, who pledged to help deliver the nation’s biggest swing state to Biden in November, moderated the fundraiser and personally introduced Biden.
Access to the fireside chat cost attendees $1,000. Logging in as a sponsor or fundraiser co-host required $2,800 or $15,000 respectively.
Whether by accident or design, Fried has managed to leverage her 2018 momentum into an outside chance to become second-in-command.
2) Fried is Master Politician
In Florida, pro wrestling is “essential,” but pro wrestlers could learn a thing or two from Fried on how to call out opponents. She’s gotten so good at it lately, Florida’s political insider class is openly speculating she’ll be the likely Democrat nominee for governor in 2022. That possibility is even more likely after the Democrat’s 2018 nominee, Andrew Gillum, became a household name for all the wrong reasons.
From the very start of the COVID-19 outbreak, Fried has capitalized on every chance she’s been given to criticize DeSantis as a leader and usurp his reign as Florida’s undisputed champion. The hits came at the beginning of pandemic when Fried and other Democratic leaders lambasted the governor for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak in Florida, and have continued on regular basis since.
Fried’s diatribe began when she called on DeSantis to follow the lead of other states, and issue a mandatory stay-at-home order. DeSantis initially proceeded with precaution, refusing to issue an order that would bankrupt the economy (in hindsight, it did). At the behest of the White House, however, he signed an executive order on April 1 requiring all Floridians to “limit movement and personal interactions outside the home.”
The order, which has since expired as the state enters phase 1 of reopening the economy, was initially praised by Fried, who said she would “stand with him when he issued it.”
Thank you, Governor. Together, we will fight #COVID19, flatten the curve, save lives, and preserve the state we love.
— Commissioner Nikki Fried (@NikkiFriedFL) April 1, 2020
Of course, that changed after Fried realized that DeSantis wouldn’t allow the government to overreach and completely lockdown every Floridian. This led to her to re-up on her disapproval of DeSantis, issuing a statement days later that criticized the Republican governor for “failing to lead” during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Florida needs leadership now more than ever, but Governor DeSantis is failing to lead. His safer-at-home order is filled with glaring loopholes as the details emerge. He quietly issued a second executive order that weakens stay-at-home restrictions, allowing mass gatherings on beaches and in religious institutions, creating enormous confusion for local officials, and putting Floridians and businesses further at risk after weeks of inaction.”
His #StayAtHome orders are filled with loopholes. He’s deflecting responsibility for his unemployment fiasco, leaving millions without help.
Governor, fix these failures.https://t.co/msp3qDa4tA
— Commissioner Nikki Fried (@NikkiFriedFL) April 3, 2020
Her antics and finger-pointing would only intensify, with the Democrat using every waking moment to cast aspersions and lob attacks at DeSantis in an effort to raise her profile, and even, perhaps, draw Biden’s eye.
The embattled agriculture commissioner would continue to tarnish the governor’s image, appearing on MSNBC — both by video and in-person at their Atlanta studio — to hypocritically condemn the stay-at-home order while simultaneously defying it. She would also take aim at the former governor, Senator Rick Scott, blaming him for the state’s over-encumbered unemployment system.
“Our unemployment website, which has been failing our citizens from day one, was something that was first created under then-governor, now Senator Scott. But unfortunately, Governor Desantis was also warned about these shortcomings last year, and did nothing to fix it,” Fried said, suggesting both men were at fault.
“And this is now going to be on them.”
It’s not partisan to hold our Governor accountable — yet the @FloridaGOP is attacking me for it.
— Nikki Fried (@nikkifried) April 5, 2020
Fried’s constant attacks led to DeSantis’s unsurprising decision to leave her off the Re-Open Florida Task Force that was tasked with putting into motion a plan to reopen the state and restart Florida’s stalled economy. That may be exactly what Fried wanted: the opportunity to play the martyr and lash out at DeSantis for the omission, blaming him for playing politics in the midst of a crisis.
“This is sadly more of the same politics over state from the Governor. I was not asked to serve alongside my fellow Cabinet members on the task force, which has no voice on its membership representing Florida’s $137 billion agriculture industry,” Fried said in a statement issued by her office.
“That is deeply concerning given the impacts of COVID-19 on Florida’s second-largest industry, and given the progress my team had made working with federal, state, local, and retail partners to reduce negative impacts on Florida agriculture. It’s equally concerning that the Governor failed to mention agriculture on the initial call — I hope he will join my commitment to supporting our farmers and feeding our families,” she continued.
It’s deeply concerning that agriculture isn’t represented on the Governor’s task force.
It’s Florida’s second-largest industry. It’s how we feed our families.
— Nikki Fried (@nikkifried) April 20, 2020
Even as Florida seemed content with DeSantis, Fried throws out a regular jab, with the most recent coming on Thursday, albeit uncharacteristically more restrained.
We’ve offered our employees to help with unemployment.
We’ve offered our laboratories to help relieve the strain of #COVID19 testing.
The offers are still on the table, @GovRonDeSantis.
We’re here to help.
— Nikki Fried (@nikkifried) April 30, 2020
If Biden needs young, energetic, photogenic, and well-practiced attack dog for the campaign trail, Nikki Fried fits the bill.
3) Biden Needs Florida, and Fried can help deliver it
It’s an understatement to say that Florida is a vital piece of real estate every presidential election.
Over the past 100 years, only four men were elected president after not carrying the state of Florida, with the last time coming in 1992 when Bill Clinton defeated George H. W. Bush after narrowly losing the Sunshine State.
With 29 electoral votes up for grabs in the 2020 election, Biden knows that a pathway to victory could go through Florida. With that in mind, he could greatly benefit from selecting a companion from Florida to help counteract the groundswell that has multiplied for Trump since 2016. And though there is plenty of data suggesting VP nominees don’t matter all that much, there has never been a major party vice presidential nominee that hailed from America’s ultimate swing state.
For her part, Fried’s political exposure has only strengthened since her election in 2018, and surely Biden has noticed the uptick in popularity.
That said, there are many voices within Florida’s political sphere who believe that if Biden were to choose a woman from Florida, U.S. Representative Val Demings is the top contender to fill the vacancy.
The Florida congresswoman is no stranger to the political scene. Demings, a second-term congresswoman, gained national exposure as one of the House impeachment managers that made the chamber’s case against Trump in his impeachment trial earlier this year.
On top of that, she is a member of the centrist New Democrat Coalition — a caucus of more than 100 Democratic members of Congress who “are committed to pro-economic growth, pro-innovation, and fiscally responsible policy ideas,” according to their website.
On paper, Demings is a strong ideological fit for Biden, who seems to be appealing to center-left voters and minorities — something that Demings has an inside track on.
While Demings has a chance to fill void, Fried’s grandstanding may prove more valuable in a race against someone as vocal as Trump. Even if she’s wrong, Fried has proven that she’s not afraid to stand against one of Trump’s most ardent allies in DeSantis. And every day she stays on the offensive, Biden sees a chance to inject her enthusiasm into his campaign to show people that he’s a fighter
Not to mention, Fried is younger than Demings — also a plus given the “Sleepy Joe” moniker that paints Biden as someone too old and too tired to keep up with an energetic Trump.