Nikki Fried helped elect Republicans leading Florida’s vaccine fight

The Democratic candidate for governor campaigned for Manny Diaz and donated to Ashley Moody in 2017.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried speaks during a meeting addressing the importance of the state applying for available federal food assistance for children, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021, at the St. Ruth Missionary Baptist Church in Dania Beach.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried speaks during a meeting addressing the importance of the state applying for available federal food assistance for children, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021, at the St. Ruth Missionary Baptist Church in Dania Beach. [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP ]
Published Sept. 24, 2021

State Sen. Manny Diaz and Attorney General Ashley Moody have come under fire lately from Democrats for leading the charge against vaccine mandates in Florida.

Diaz, the top Republican on the Florida Senate health care committee, wants to review all vaccine requirements for children to attend schools, like those for measles and mumps, the website Florida Politics reported Thursday. Moody, meanwhile, announced this month she is suing President Joe Biden’s administration over its new requirement for workers to get vaccinated.

For those two Republicans to get to where they are, they had the help of one prominent Democrat: Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, one of the party’s leading contenders for governor in 2022.

Fried campaigned for Diaz in 2016 when the Hialeah Republican was running for a hotly contested Miami-area House race. A picture from the final days of the campaign, posted on social media, shows Fried in an orange “Re-elect Manny Diaz Jr.” shirt making calls on his behalf.

Fried also donated $2,000 to Moody’s campaign in 2017 — the same election cycle that Fried won her office in Tallahassee and became the state’s only statewide-elected Democrat. Moody defeated Democrat Sean Shaw in the general election.

Kevin Cate, a Fried spokesperson, dismissed questions about her past support for Diaz and Moody as an “oppo dump,” meaning opposition research from a rival campaign. Fried is running against U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg in the Democratic primary for governor.

Cate said Fried, a marijuana lobbyist at the time she aided Diaz’s campaign, often worked across the aisle to generate support for the medical marijuana law. He said her past friendship with Moody, which dates back to their days in student government at the University of Florida, was also well-documented.

“Nobody has been more pro-vaccine than Commissioner Fried,” Cate said. “Any attempt to say otherwise, or make up some controversy to try to win a primary, is laughable and we know exactly who it’s coming from.”

Yet while she supports the vaccine, Fried said as governor she would not require state government employees to get vaccinated. And while Fried uses her Twitter almost every day to criticize DeSantis, especially over his pandemic policies, she hasn’t mentioned Florida’s powerful attorney general by name, according to a review of her feed.

Diaz’s apparent willingness to reconsider long-established vaccine requirements for school-age kids drew an immediate rebuke from Democrats on Thursday. Democratic Miami State Sen. Annette Taddeo, who is considering her own run for governor, called it “dangerous” and “a move to motivate the anti-vax base.”

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State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D- Orlando, wrote on Twitter that Republicans, “have put QAnon anti-vaxxers in the driver’s seat.”

Fried hasn’t publicly commented on Diaz’s vaccine statement. The photo of Fried working for Diaz has been circling for weeks in Democratic circles. Her past political contributions to Republicans were a point of contention during her primary race for agriculture commissioner in 2018.

Fried was a lobbyist for some of Florida’s largest companies before running for office in 2018. In addition to Moody, Fried also gave to Adam Putnam’s 2014 re-election campaign for agriculture commissioner and the failed state legislative campaigns of Republicans Sheri Treadwell and then-state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla.

Fried was ultimately victorious in the primary and went on to run the only successful campaign for statewide office of any Democrat.

In recent weeks, Fried has drawn attention to Crist’s past political life as a Republican. She posted to social media a video on social media from Crist’s 2010 campaign for U.S. Senate in which he declares: “I am pro-life, I am pro-gun, I am pro-family, and I am anti-tax.” She also tweeted a link to a website from 2014 that archived many positions that Crist has flipped on since becoming a Democrat.

Crist was a Republican when he was elected governor in 2006, became an independent when he ran for U.S. Senate in 2010 and was the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor in 2014. He has served in Congress as a Democrat since 2017.

“Charlie is a nice guy,” Fried wrote. “But he’s not going to win this primary. So let’s start the general now.”