Sen. Annette Taddeo

Sen. Annette Taddeo, (D) Miami, talking to reporters in Tallahassee.

State Sen. Annette Taddeo jumped into the Democratic primary race for governor on Monday, saying she is the candidate who can excite voters in her party’s bid to oust Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis next year.

Taddeo’s entrance into the contest sets up a crowded and potentially awkward Democratic primary battle with U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.

Crist, a Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat, tapped Taddeo as his lieutenant-governor running mate in his losing effort to recapture the governor’s office in 2014. Crist was defeated by former Gov. Rick Scott, who is now a U.S. senator.

“I have tremendous respect for Charlie. I love Charlie, and I know he has a huge heart. But this race is not about Charlie or about me. This race is about the future for Floridians and who is going to be the best person to create the coalition and create the excitement from the ground up, for us to win in Florida,” Taddeo told reporters after filing paperwork for the race Monday morning in Tallahassee.

In what is perhaps a backhanded swipe at Crist, she also said: “I am a lifelong Democrat and somebody who has never stood down to our democratic values, always has been willing to stand up no matter how tough the fight is. That is what we need,” she said.

In a prepared statement, Crist praised Taddeo, a former chairwoman of the Miami-Dade County Democratic Party.

“I know and respect Annette Taddeo. We share a common goal of moving Florida forward and away from the negative and divisive politics damaging our state today under the failed leadership of Gov. DeSantis,” he said. “We, like most Floridians, know we can and must do better. 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. Annette will bring spirit, heart and important perspective to this race.”

Taddeo, who grew up in Colombia, joined the Florida Senate in a 2017 special election to replace a disgraced Republican lawmaker who was forced to resign following a profanity-laced and racially tinged outburst at a private club near the Capitol.

Taddeo was outgunned financially by her opponent, former Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, who had the backing of GOP Senate leaders. At the time, Democrats viewed the 2017 special election and Taddeo’s win as a litmus test for then-President Donald Trump and his policies. But DeSantis, Trump’s close ally, edged out Democratic challenger Andrew Gillum in the 2018 gubernatorial race, and Democrats lost a number of legislative and congressional seats in 2020.

Taddeo, however, said she believes she has what it takes to galvanize Hispanic voters and appeal to progressives, as Democrats struggle to regain a foothold in Florida, where Trump defeated President Joe Biden by three percentage points last year.

Speaking to reporters on a brisk morning near the Capitol, Taddeo said she intends to share her story with Floridians “to excite the base and really create the momentum that is needed” to win.

She said grassroots activists throughout the state urged her to enter the race, telling her “we need a candidate that can excite us, and that can, you know, really get us to the finish line, not just in the primary, but in the general” election.

“I know people all across the state are disgusted about what is happening, all because it is more important to be popular with voters in Iowa than being a governor who actually governs for all Floridians,” Taddeo said, referring to widespread speculation that DeSantis plans to run for president in 2024.

Taddeo also acknowledged that Democrats face challenges running against DeSantis, who has amassed a $58 million campaign war chest as he holds fundraisers throughout the nation.

“Look, there is no question that there’s a lot of money that the governor is collecting, but we all know that doesn’t decide elections. People do,” she said. “You know the past history, just as close as this last election, clearly shows that the underdogs, the people that nobody expected on both parties and both sides, actually came on top. So those who ignore that are ignoring history.”