Nikki Fried campaign: Internal polling shows close Democratic primary race with Charlie Crist

Kathryn Varn

The Democratic contest for governor is more competitive than it appears, the Nikki Fried campaign said Thursday, pointing to new internal polling data.

In the first Democratic Primary poll since Annette Taddeo dropped out of the race two weeks ago, the Global Strategy Group survey of 600 likely Democratic primary voters showed 34% support for Fried and 38% for Charlie Crist, a difference within the poll's margin of error. The remaining 29% said they were undecided. 

But Agriculture Commissioner Fried, the state's only statewide elected Democrat, surpassed Crist when participants were given short biographies of the two candidates. The polling showed Fried with a 17-point lead, 48%-31%.

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, who is running as a Democratic candidate for Florida Governor, responds to questions from Tallahassee Democrat Florida Capital Bureau reporter James Call in an interview at the Democrat office Wednesday, April 13, 2022.

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Those numbers pave a path to victory for Fried, campaign media consultant Kevin Cate said on a press briefing Thursday for the state's political reporters.

“We know as soon as we introduce just the very basic information about Nikki Fried, that the voters flock to us," Cate said, adding that Crist's initial 34% support was a "piss-poor" number considering the congressman and former governor's widespread name recognition.

Fried did especially well among young voters, women and Black voters, according to the poll, which included an oversample of 200 African-Americans, who represent a key voting bloc for any Democrat seeking to win a statewide primary. It was conducted by phone and web surveys from June 8-13.

A Crist campaign spokeswoman said the poll is "full of smoke, mirrors, and hype tactics that contradict one another."

"They need a good chiropractor to undo all the knots they've tied themselves in to try and explain how they can actually win," Samantha Ramirez said Thursday in a statement.

Congressman Charlie Crist, who is running as a Democratic candidate for Florida Governor, responds to questions from Tallahassee Democrat Florida Capital Bureau reporter James Call in a interview at the Democrat office Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022.

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She pointed out that both the campaign's internal polls and outside surveys indicate that Crist has a much wider lead over Fried and is the best candidate to defeat DeSantis.

The former governor has also racked up endorsements from scores of Florida Democrats and constituent organizations, including the Florida Sierra Club and the Florida Education Association, although Fried last month secured a key endorsement from the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida.

Cate painted Fried as an underdog akin to Andrew Gillum, who in 2018 topped a five-candidate race with little Democratic establishment support to become the party's nominee for governor. He then lost to DeSantis in the general election by less than 33,000 votes. Cate also worked on Gillum's campaign as a media consultant.

But a key difference between then and now is money. Democratic fundraising in 2018 dwarfed the roughly $6.9 million raised by Fried so far and $10.2 million in Crist's campaign coffers.

And neither one of them are even close to DeSantis, who has a war chest of $124 million and a consistent advantage in polls comparing him to Democratic candidates.

POLITICO, which is tracking governor’s races nationwide, reports that Florida is “trending Republican” and expects DeSantis to “not face the kind of nail-biter he did in 2018” when he barely beat Gillum. Turnout then topped 8.2 million voters. 

The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter, which also monitors gubernatorial races across the country, says the governor's race favors DeSantis, deeming it "Likely Republican.”

Florida Enterprise/Politics Editor Sergio Bustos contributed to this report. Kathryn Varn is statewide enterprise reporter for the Gannett/USA Today Network - Florida. You can reach her at kvarn@gannett.com or (727) 238-5315.