U.S. Rep. Val Demings launched a bid for the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, raising hope among Democrats of ousting Republican Sen. Marco Rubio from the evenly divided chamber.
With the Senate now split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, the Florida race will undoubtedly be among the nation’s most high profile and expensive battles next year.
The Orlando congresswoman used a video on social media to begin introducing herself to a wider audience. In the video, Demings showcases her rise from a working-class background to become the police chief of one of Florida’s largest cities before ascending to the U.S. Congress.
“When you grow up in the South, poor, Black and female, you have to have faith and progress and opportunity,” she says in her video.
Demings was on the shortlist of potential running mates for President Joe Biden after helping lead the first impeachment against President Donald Trump.
Some Florida Democrats had hoped that Demings would instead take on Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is banking on reelection next year to help propel him for a possible run for the presidency in 2024.
In her Senate announcement video, Demings takes aim at Trump, calling him a “lawless president.” Then she takes aim at Rubio.
“There are some in Washington who prefer the same old tired ways of doing business,” she says, “too tired to fight the efforts to suppress the people’s vote. They fall back to tired talking points and backwards solutions.”
Rubio hit back Wednesday, calling Demings, who was first elected to Congress in 2016, a “far left extremist” with an undistinguished legislative record.
In a tweet, he said “No matter who wins the democratic Senate primary in #Florida my opponent will be a far left extremist.
“Look, I’ve always known that my opponent for the Senate was going to be a far left liberal Democrat. Today we just found out which one of them Chuck Schumer’s picked,” Rubio says in a video, referring to the top Democrat in the Senate. He called her a “do-nothing” member of the U.S. House.
That’s an argument Democrats have also made in the Senate against Rubio, who they charge has been more focused on pursuing political ambition, not accomplishment. Rubio announced he would not run for reelection six years ago to make a bid for the White House in 2016 but abandoned that effort after getting little traction.
Rubio’s campaign manager Mark Morgan said, “Marco has consistently delivered for Florida families. He created the small business rescue plan that saved millions of Florida Jobs, took on his own party to double the Child Tax Credit, and fought to ensure Florida veterans receive the care they earned.
“Marco’s contrast with Val Demings could not be greater because she has no record of results for Florida. Since coming to Washington, she has voted with Nancy Pelosi nearly 100% of the time. She supported efforts to defund the police, opposed tax relief for working families, and led the effort to put Washington in charge of Florida’s elections. Florida deserves a Senator with a proven track record of fighting, and winning, for Florida families.”
To face off with Rubio in November 2022, Demings would have to first win the Democratic primary. It remains to be seen if any other Democratic heavy hitters will get into the race.
UCF political science professor Aubrey Jewett said Demings is one of the best democrats to face Rubio but the race will be tough.
“He is one of the few Republicans that can do very well in South Florida, among Cuban and other non-Cuban Hispanic voters, but also do equally well up in the panhandle among conservatives, so that makes him tough to beat,” Jewett said.
As it became clearer that Demings was preparing a Senate campaign, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, another Orlando Democrat, announced late last month that she would not be seeking the post.
Former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson is again hoping for a chance to go head-to-head against Rubio after failing in 2016 to advance through the Democratic primary. Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell is also considering a run, as is Albert Fox Jr., who has espoused reestablishing stronger relations with Cuba.
If Demings wins the race, she would become only the third Black woman to serve in the Senate, after fellow Democrats Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, in the 1990s, and Kamala Harris of California, before she became Biden’s vice president.
Despite her law enforcement background, Republicans have attempted to tie Demings to activists calling for greater scrutiny on how police operate. Demings has forcefully pushed back by highlighting her 27 years as a law officer. Demings is married to Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, also a former Orlando police chief.
Already, Rubio is attempting to brand Demings as a socialist — a playbook that Republicans have used with much success in Florida, which has a significant population of voters whose families fled Cuba and other Latin American countries with a history of repressive leaders.
“Desperate people will do and say desperate things,” Demings told the Orlando Sentinel in an interview ahead of her campaign launch, “and I don’t blame Rubio and the GOP for being very concerned about me running for the United States Senate against Marco Rubio.”