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Democratic strategist says Taddeo's gubernatorial candidacy is 'healthy' for party

Florida state Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, speaks during a special session in 2019 about Gov. Ron DeSantis' dismissal of Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.
Steve Cannon

Florida’s Democratic primary race for governor has three high-profile contenders after state Sen. Annette Taddeo of Miami-Dade County declared her candidacy on Monday. Taddeo is vying for the party's nomination against Congressman Charlie Crist and state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.

Long-time Democratic strategist Steve Schale spoke with WFSU's Valerie Crowder about what this means for the race heading into next year’s elections.

What does state Senator Annette Taddeo’s campaign announcement mean for the Democratic primary race for governor?

When you look back at 2020, one of the real places [where] things kind of got sideways with the Democrats was with the Hispanic vote, particularly in South Florida. And Annette represents a swing district that is majority hispanic. I think it’s an important voice and that’s one element she brings to it. She’s a businesswoman, so she’s got a different sort of background, different sort of story. And I think it’s healthy on our side as we rebuild in this state to have a lot of interesting and diverse voices in the conversation.

What do you make of the fact of that Taddeo ran for lieutenant governor alongside Charlie Crist when he was seeking the governor’s office in 2014 and is now running against him in the primary?

I don’t make much of it. I think Congressman Crist and Senator Taddeo I have no reason to believe they’re not friendly and not friends. There’s only one governor’s mansion. If you’re going to run, you’re going to run. Frankly I think all three of them in the race are probably pretty friendly. Annette and Charlie are friends. As far as I know, I think the three of them, including Nikki, all three of them get along very well. And I have a lot of confidence that given their personal relationships, whoever’s the nominee the other two are going to rally behind them pretty quickly.

Do you expect Taddeo’s candidacy will spur more Democrats to join the race?

It’s hard to say. We’re still probably what seven months away, eight months away to qualifying. Certainly in 2018 we saw some late entires in the race and so I think it’s probably too early to say the field is closed. I haven’t heard of anybody at least who’s on the elected side actively looking into getting in at this point, but that doesn’t mean there’s not someone out there or sort of a business-type person or self-funder that couldn’t get in yet, but I think for the most part this is probably our field.

We need to do better with Hispanics in Miami-Dade, for example. But we also need to do better with suburban and exurban voters.
Steve Schale, Democratic strategist

What do you think Democrats need to do to put themselves in a competitive position to win a statewide race next year?

We were able to win a number of statewide races in 2006 and 2008, coming off a horrible presidential cycle in '04. We did it by getting back and focusing on sort of basics: Registering voters in a real way, which we really haven’t done well as a party for a while, kind of meeting voters where they are.
We need to do better with Hispanics in Miami-Dade, for example. But we also need to do better with suburban and exurban voters. In 2004, George Bush won the state by five points and Democrats won three of the next six statewide elections over the next two cycles. So I don’t think all hope is lost, but we need to get back to doing some of those fundamentals better.

Among the party's top three candidates for governor, who do you think has the best chance of unseating Governor DeSantis?

I think this was always one of the hardest questions to answer. The reality is that the candidate that wins the primary is usually the one that’s put together the best campaign and is kind of ready to go. I think all three of them have very compelling cases. Obviously, Nikki has run and won statewide. Charlie has interesting, populist appeal across party lines. Annette comes at it as a businesswoman with a really interesting personal story and a successfully elected Hispanic female. I think there’s a lot to be said for all three of them. We’ll see how the race plays out. This is one of those where probably the best candidate is going to be the one that runs the best race in the primary and is ready to take on DeSantis then.

Do you think Congresswoman Val Demmings has a better shot at beating Senator Marco Rubio than the Democrats have at unseating Governor Ron DeSantis?

If you look back at recent history, at least, there’s not been a lot of separation between the highest competitive races at the top of the ticket. I mean 2018 if you look at the governor’s race, the senate race, the ag commissioner’s race, etcetera, those races were very tightly bunched. And so I think that Val Demmings (who I’ve known for a long time, she’s a phenomenal lady, a phenomenal candidate) she’ll bring a different type of energy, a different type of race to the ticket than any of the three who are running for governor. But again, I think they all kind of complement each other. I suspect given the politics of the world these days, I don’t see a world for example where Val wins the senate race by a few points and then we lose the governor’s race by a few points. I just think in the end those races are probably going to have similar outcomes.

Valerie Crowder is a freelance journalist based in Tallahassee, Fl. She's the former ATC host/government reporter for WFSU News. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.