Barbara Sharief running for Florida Senate, setting stage for colossal primary showdown

Barbara Sharief said Friday she’s running for Florida Senate, setting up a colossal showdown in the Democratic primary.

Sharief is running in a newly crafted Senate District 35 that covers southwest Broward, her longtime political base.

There’s no incumbent senator in that district. But state Sen. Lauren Book, who lives nearby, plans to move into the newly created district and is running there.

The result will be contentious campaign leading to the Aug. 23 Democratic primary, the winner of which is all-but-guaranteed to win the November general election.

The moment the campaign began, the gloves were off.

“Tallahassee’s broken. We need public servants who will fight for the people that they serve instead of selling out to big money special interests and lobbyists,” Sharief said in a campaign video posted on social media Friday morning. “We need a leader who won’t bow to the right wing agenda that wants to take away all of our rights, restrict our freedoms and limit opportunity.”

Her comments in the video and later at a kickoff event in Davie are a clear criticism of Book, who is currently the Democratic leader in the Florida Senate and has been accused by political foes of not taking a sufficiently tough line with Republicans. Her father, Ron Book, one of the state’s most prominent lobbyists, is a major Florida political player and fundraiser.

“Too many politicians are concerned with how to benefit themselves and lobbyists who give them money. They have no idea who you are, what you think or what you want because they only care about passing their own agendas by any means necessary. The political establishment doesn’t know what it’s like to struggle, to claw your way out of poverty, to create a life of stability. We need true public servants who will fight for the people they serve instead of selling out. We need someone who understands the struggle,” Sharief said.

Sharief is a former Broward County commissioner and former Miramar city commissioner. As a county commissioner, she served as president of the Florida Association of Counties, and her colleagues twice elected her to serve terms as county mayor. A nurse who holds a doctorate of nursing practice, Sharief founded a pediatric home health care company.

Last year, Sharief was an unsuccessful candidate in a special Democratic congressional primary. She finished third in the 11-candidate field seeking the nomination to succeed the late Congressman Alcee Hastings. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick won the special congressional primary and special general election.

Book was traveling Friday and not available to comment about the primary campaign. In a statement emailed by her spokeswoman, Book faulted Sharief for challenging an incumbent Democrat in the primary and noted her failed 2021 campaign.

Book depicted herself as the champion of Democratic values and voice of opposition to Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republicans.

“I have spent the past several years fighting for our shared Democratic values and am now working tirelessly to not only increase Democrats’ numbers in the Senate but to stop the ultra right wing agenda of Ron DeSantis and his supporters. Serving in the State Senate should never be a ‘consolation prize,’ especially at such a time when our values and freedoms are under attack by the extreme right,” Book said.

“My work in the Senate and as Democratic leader is far from over, and Democrats fighting each other only undermines our critical efforts to strengthen our party and Caucus. We should be working together to to defeat the Republican agenda, not each other,” Book said.

The primary contest could have a broader impact. The No. 1 job of a party leader in the Legislature is raising money to help the party’s other candidates. A primary race means Book will have to spend more time campaigning in her own contest and raising money for her own efforts instead of raising money for other Democratic candidates for the state Senate.

Book was first elected to the Florida Senate in 2016. In 2021, she became minority party leader in the Senate after Democrats ousted another Broward Democrat, state Sen. Gary Farmer, from the job. Currently serving Democratic senators have chosen Book to continue in that job through 2024, something contingent on Broward voters electing her to a Senate seat.

Book is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and rape, and is founder and CEO of the child abuse prevention organization Lauren’s Kids.

Redistricting and shifting advantages

Matthew Isbell, a Florida-based Democratic data consultant who runs the MCI Maps firm and grew up in that part of Broward, wrote on Twitter that the Book-Sharief primary could have “a notable north south divide. Sharief could do well in the southern-diverse end where she was a commissioner. While Book should do strong in the northern suburbs.”

The Power Lunch – Florida Politics


A lunch-hour look at what’s trending in Florida politics.

Mapping that Isbell published immediately after the congressional primary showed that Sharief’s best performance was was in southwest Broward precincts — especially around Miramar — that are in the new district. Part of the territory she represented on the County Commission, from November 2010 to January 2022, is in the Senate district, but much of it isn’t.

Book currently represents a large part of the newly created District 35, but because of redistricting, her home in Plantation is now part of new District 32. Running there would have required her to compete with freshly elected state Sen. Rosalind Osgood — in a district that would greatly favor Osgood. Boundaries of all state Senate districts are changing this year to reflect population changes uncovered in the 2020 Census, forcing current lawmakers to figure out where they’ll run if they want to try to continue their careers and creating more opportunities for newcomers.

Book has been looking for a new home in District 35, her spokeswoman said, and plans to move there.

The new 35th Senate District is mostly south of Interstate 595 and west of Florida’s Turnpike. It also includes territory around the hockey arena in Sunrise formerly known as the BB&T Center and the Sawgrass Mills shopping mall and vast unpopulated territory in the Everglades. It includes all or parts of Cooper City, Davie, Miramar, Pembroke Pines, Sunrise and Southwest Ranches.

The Book-Sharief faceoff was expected. Though Sharief had considered running again for Congress, she said in a March 12 interview during a break at the Broward Democratic Party’s annual Obama Roosevelt Legacy Gala that she was “leaning heavily” toward a Senate candidacy.

The coming primary means other Democrats, along with political donors, will be put in an uncomfortable position. Broward County Commissioner Steve Geller, a former Democratic Party leader in the Florida Senate, said Friday he planned to endorse Book. “I really like my former colleague Dr. Sharief. I wish she was running in a different seat.”