Florida Democrats to Pick Party Chair

MIAMI (AP) -- Florida Democrats on Saturday are set to choose a new party leader after a disastrous midterm performance in the onetime presidential battleground state, with particularly abysmal results among Latinos.

The strongest contenders are former state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and former state senator Annette Taddeo, both of whom lost their own races last year. Fried lost the Democratic gubernatorial nomination to Charlie Crist, while Taddeo failed to unseat Republican Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar.

Party members will select the new chair at a special meeting in Maitland, an Orlando suburb. They are picking a replacement for Manny Diaz, who resigned last month. In his resignation letter, he listed a number of problems facing the party, including a lack of resources and volunteers and poor messaging.

Within the last couple of years, Republicans have erased the voter registration advantage in Florida that Democrats had for decades. In the November midterm, longtime blue counties such as Miami-Dade and Palm Beach flipped red, and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis won a landslide reelection victory as he eyes a 2024 presidential bid.

Democrats performed particularly poorly with Latinos in Florida compared to previous years. Miami-Dade, the state's most populous county, is home to 1.5 million Latinos of voting age.

Fried, whose term as agriculture commissioner wrapped up last month, has vowed to rebuild the party "from the ground up," with a focus on voter registration. As the only statewide elected Democrat, Fried, 45, was a fierce critic of DeSantis, often challenging him on policies related to the COVID-19 pandemic and later on a law critics dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill, which bars instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.

Taddeo, 55, who served as a state senator from 2017 to 2022, says she wants a year-round effort to mobilize young voters and to register voters without outsourcing that job to other groups. She also says the party must conduct more outreach to Black and Hispanic communities.

Just over a decade ago, President Barack Obama won reelection to the White House after twice carrying the state of Florida. President Donald Trump won the state in the last two elections, carrying Florida by an even larger margin in 2020 than four years earlier.