Miami Democrat upends Florida governor’s race

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TALLAHASSEE — State Sen. Annette Taddeo on Monday scrambled Florida’s Democratic primary for governor, as the Miami Democrat jumped into the contest against two better-known rivals who have been running for several months.

While Taddeo has an uphill battle against both Rep. Charlie Crist and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, her entrance reflects that neither Democrat has garnered significant traction in the battle to challenge Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. DeSantis has become a national GOP superstar amid his anti-lockdown Covid-19 policies and his embrace of hot-button conservative culture issues.

“We actually need a governor who will govern for all Floridians,” Taddeo told POLITICO moments before she filed her official paperwork.

Taddeo, who had been hinting at a run for months, said that “what ultimately pushed me over the edge” was DeSantis’ battle with local school districts over Covid-19 policies, including his push to ban mask mandates.

“When the governor decided to politicize our kids health and well-being that was one thing too much,” said Taddeo, who has a daughter in the 10th grade.

The 54-year-old released a two-minute mostly biographical video that detailed her background, including that her father was an American combat pilot and that her family was terrorized by Marxist guerillas while she was growing up in Colombia.

Taddeo’s entry had been anticipated for weeks as her political committee announced a series of staffing hires, a sign that she was aiming for a statewide run instead of running for reelection to her state Senate seat.

She brings a decidedly different background then those already in the race: She’s Colombian-American, speaks Spanish and hails from one of the biggest Democratic strongholds in the state. Taddeo warns that Democrats need a candidate who can do well in Miami-Dade County, which saw Republicans and former President Donald Trump do well enough in 2020 to help knock off two incumbent Democratic members of Congress.

“The whole rest of the state is extremely important, but if we are not able to reverse those trends we won’t have a shot,” Taddeo said.

Taddeo runs her own small business — a language translation service — and is a mother. She has also been outspoken about the failings of the state party as it has seen its voter registration edge vanish and warned that more needs to be done to combat Republican attacks that Democrats are embracing socialism.

She contends that she can put together a “coalition” of voters — including “Black and brown voters” — that could ultimately prevail in a general election.

“Those who chose to put aside underdogs are ignoring history,” she said.

Taddeo has run statewide before. She was Crist’s running mate as lieutenant governor in his unsuccessful bid to knock off then-Gov. Rick Scott in 2014. Taddeo, a former chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, also came up short in two runs for Congress in 2016, but won a state Senate seat in a special election in 2017. The seat that she won had been held by Republican Sen. Frank Artiles, who resigned after making racially offensive remarks in a heated private conversation with two black Democratic senators.

Taddeo said she had “great respect” for Crist and that “I know he has a huge heart.”

“This race is not about Charlie, it’s not about me,” Taddeo said. “It’s about the future of Florida. Democrats are going to have a choice to make about who is the fighter who is going to stand tall on our values.”

Crist on Monday returned the kind words.

“Time and time again, Annette has stood up for her community, and that's why I asked her to be my Lieutenant Governor in 2014,” Crist said in a statement. “Annette will bring spirit, heart, and important perspective to this race.”

One lingering question is whether or not Taddeo’s decision to enter the race will spur other candidates to join the fray. In the 2018 race, Democrats wound up having a splintered and crowded field that led to the upset victory of former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the primary. Gillum wound up narrowly losing to DeSantis.

Taddeo’s decision to run for governor also complicates Democrats ongoing quest to chip away at the GOP majority in the state Senate. Republicans now hold a 24-16 majority, an edge that they gained last year when they narrowly won a Miami-Dade seat by ousting Democratic incumbent José Javier Rodriguez. Taddeo’s current Senate district was already a likely target for Republicans since Trump won a majority of the vote in the district in 2020. It is likely to be tweaked during redistricting in early 2022.

Taddeo, who had not yet drawn an opponent for her state Senate seat, had raised more than $80,000 in her reelection campaign account. Campaign finance records show that her political committee had a little more than $242,000 in the bank at the end of September.

Taddeo’s position in the state Senate, however, complicates her bid for governor since she’s barred from raising money during the two-month session that starts in January.

She said she “has a plan” to aggressively money before and after session in order to have enough money for the campaign.