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Are Florida Democrats skipping the Cabinet races?

Qualifying for state races is still a little more than eight months away — June 13 to June 17. So far, no Democrat has filed to run for the state’s three Cabinet positions: Attorney general, chief financial officer, agriculture commissioner.
Florida's Cabinet and governor: From left, Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.
Florida's Cabinet and governor: From left, Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis. [ News Service of Florida ]
Published Oct. 7

TALLAHASSEE — Time will soon be running short for Democrats to field a credible slate of Florida Cabinet candidates, or even just to mount a serious campaign for any of the three statewide offices.

Democrats have won just two Cabinet races in the past 15 years, and 2022 is beginning to look like 2014, when the party put up little fight for the seats. Two Republican incumbents, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis are running for re-election, while the agriculture commissioner seat will be open because Democratic incumbent Nikki Fried is running for governor.

Unless Democrats can attract well-known or independently wealthy candidates, the party realistically needs to get candidates into the races “sooner than later” to raise money and build name recognition needed to be competitive, University of Central Florida political-science professor Aubrey Jewett said.

“I would think, certainly, by the end of the year Democrats would like to have some viable, quality candidates in place --- people who already hold elective office, have run a winning campaign before and have a demonstrated record of success in raising money,” Jewett said. “They don’t have to have formally filed by then but should be at least making noise that they are thinking about running.”

The Florida Democratic Party didn’t reply when asked for comment this week about building a Cabinet slate.

Jewett said it’s “somewhat ironic” Democrats have had troubles recruiting solid Cabinet candidates as they won the chief financial officer race in 2006, with Alex Sink, and the agriculture commissioner race in 2018, with Fried. Democrats haven’t won a gubernatorial race since 1994, when Lawton Chiles was re-elected.

“So, while they have not won often, they have at least won some, which is more than they can say for governor,” Jewett said. “That alone ought to push some Democrats into the Cabinet races.”

So far, Moody and Patronis have not drawn Democratic challengers, as they have piled up money for their re-election bids.

Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, recently made his campaign for agriculture commissioner official and entered a lightly contested field made up of Democrat Ryan Morales and Republicans Richard Earl Olle Jr. and James Shaw.

Shaw has put $20,000 of his own money into the race while Olle hadn’t raised any money through August. Morales had loaned $2,030 to his campaign and raised $92.

Meanwhile, Simpson is running at least four political committees — Friends of Wilton Simpson, Jobs for Florida, Florida Green PAC and Future Florida — that collectively started September with just over $5 million.

Candidates and committees face a deadline next week to file campaign-finance reports for September. Qualifying for state races is still a little more than eight months away — June 13 to June 17.

In 2014, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater — all Republicans — easily won with little Democratic opposition. Bondi had the closest contest, winning by 13.1 percentage points over George Sheldon, a former Department of Children and Families secretary.

BY JIM TURNER