Orlando Democrat Val Demings announces run for Marco Rubio’s U.S. Senate seat

Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings officially announced a bid for Republican Marco Rubio’s U.S. Senate seat on Wednesday, giving Democrats a high-profile candidate in one of the nation’s most competitive 2022 Senate contests.

Demings, 64, has represented Orlando in the House of Representatives since 2017 after a long career in law enforcement that included a stint as chief of the Orlando Police Department from 2007 to 2011.

Her announcement, which was first reported by the Orlando Sentinel, had a clear law-and-order theme that drew heavily on her policing career before Congress, when she became a high-profile surrogate for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Republicans across the country, including Rubio, successfully attacked many Democrats as anti-police during the 2020 election.

Demings’ three-minute announcement video included a mash-up of local officials praising her work as police chief.

“They said we’d never lower crime, but I said ‘never tire,’ ” Demings said. “Along the way we brought law and order to a lawless president.”

Demings has a higher profile than the typical U.S. House member despite only serving two terms. She was vetted by President Joe Biden to be his running mate during the 2020 election, picked by Pelosi to serve as an impeachment manager for former President Donald Trump’s first trial, became a frequent presence on cable news where she frequently attacked the former president and had a knack for capturing attention during verbal sparring matches with Republicans like Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan.

But defeating Rubio, who outpaced Trump’s 2016 performance in Florida by four percentage points the last time he ran, will be tough. The Miami Republican said he believes he’ll face Demings in the 2022 general election in a video on Wednesday, branding her as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s preferred pick for the seat.

“I always knew 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 said in a video. “I’m looking forward to this campaign because it’s going to offer the people of Florida a very clear difference.”

Demings is the heavy favorite in the Democratic primary, and her biggest potential challenger, Central Florida U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, recently announced she would not run for statewide office in 2022. Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell announced a primary bid last week and little-known Democrats Joshua Joseph Weil, Josue Larose, Allen Ellison and Edward Abud have also filed paperwork to seek the Democratic nomination. Former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination to run against Rubio in 2016, has also announced a run. Demings has $1 million in her campaign account as of March 31.

Rubio isn’t likely to face serious opposition in the GOP primary after Trump endorsed him in April. He has nearly $4 million to spend on the race as of March 31.

In the announcement video, Demings argued that Rubio is a creature of Washington, though she didn’t directly refer to him by name.

“It turns out there are some in Washington who preferred the same old tired ways of doing business. They fall back to tired talking points and backwards solutions,” Demings said, before a clip was played of former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie attacking Rubio for making a canned speech during a 2016 presidential debate.

“There it is, the memorized 25-second speech,” Christie said. “That’s what Washington does.”

In a press call on Wednesday afternoon, Demings said she’s happy to compare her record against Rubio’s after he characterized her as a “do-nothing” legislator. Demings, whose voting record in the U.S. House is in line with Pelosi’s priorities, is also in favor of scrapping the 60-vote threshold in the U.S. Senate to pass more legislation.

“Marco Rubio’s career of public service obviously began when he was elected to political office, mine did not and absolutely I’m looking forward to putting my record of service against Rubio’s record of service any time any place anywhere,” Demings said.

Rubio’s campaign said it will highlight Rubio’s work in the Senate since his 2016 run for president, noting that he developed the Paycheck Protection Program to help small businesses during the COVD-19 pandemic and efforts to double the child tax credit in Trump’s 2017 tax bill.

“Marco has consistently delivered for Florida families,” campaign manager Mark Morgan said in a statement. “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.”

Rubio’s campaign also accused Demings, who worked in law enforcement from 1984 to 2011, of being in favor of “defunding the police.” In response, Demings said lawmakers must get serious about taking on issues like education inequality and a lack of mental health funding that often lead to dire situations where police are called in.

“ ’Defund the police’ sounds like something that would be said by someone who is obviously desperate,” Demings said.

Rubio begins the race as the favorite due to his past success in statewide Senate races and the GOP’s 2020 performance in the state. But the race will be a top priority for both parties for control of a 50-50 Senate where Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote gives Democrats a slim advantage.

If elected, Demings would be the country’s third Black woman senator. None now serve in the Senate.

“When you grow up in the South poor, Black and female, you have to have faith in progress and opportunity,” Demings said. “I’ve never tired of representing Florida, not for one single moment. I’ve never tired of standing up for what I believe is right. Now I’m running for the United States Senate because of two simple words: Never tire.”