Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., who made it to President Joe Biden's running mate shortlist in 2020, likely will challenge Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in the 2022 race for the seat he's held for 2 terms, according to several Democrat sources.
Demings, 64, was first elected to the House in 2016 from Orlando, where she had been the city's first Black woman police chief. She had been thinking for months about which statewide office to seek, but has decided she'd be most effective by taking on Rubio, who is in his second term, reports Politico.
A top adviser to Demings left a bit of room for her to change her mind, but said there is a "98.6% chance" she'll challenge Rubio. The lawmaker expects to make her decision on the race as early as June.
The adviser said Demings has grown critical of Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., but ultimately was more frustrated with Senate Republicans under Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
"If I had to point to one thing, I think it's the COVID bill and the way Republicans voted against it for no good reason," the adviser told Politico. "That really helped push her over the edge. She also had this huge fight with [Rep.] Jim Jordan[, R-Ohio] and it brought that into focus. This fight is in Washington and it’s the right fight for her to continue."
Demings came to national prominence during the first impeachment of former President Donald Trump and has since become a national spokesperson for the Democratic Party while speaking on policing and race issues.
"I would’ve supported her running for governor, but this is the right fit for her and for us," said Alex Sink, a former Florida chief financial officer who narrowly lost her own bid for governor in 2010 against now-Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla. "She’s going to draw a contrast between who she is and how she represents Florida vs. Marco Rubio, who a lot of people where I live never see him."
Demings could face primary challenges so far from three other Orlando-area Democrats, Rep. Stephanie Murphy, former Rep. Alan Grayson, and former prosecutor Aramis Ayala.
Demings' supporters, meanwhile, acknowledge that Rubio won't be easy to defeat, given his 2 wins for Senate and his crossover appeal with the state's Hispanic population, which came out strong for Republicans in the 2020 election.
The Collective PAC, a group working to boost Democrat votes in Florida, will be more active with Demings on the ticket, as she was "one of the first Democrats we backed when we were formed in 2016 and since that point, she's been a rising star in politics,” said Quentin James, the group's founder and executive director.
The PAC had also helped push Andrew Gillum in the 2018 primary for governor. He eventually lost to DeSantis in the general election.
"We came very close with Gillum," James said. "But now we're back with a really great candidate. We're going to do all the things. It’s not either-or, not just TV or field. We’re doing both."
James added that Republicans "can't call [Demings] a socialist," as she is moderate in tone and policy, and dismissed concerns that her law enforcement background could cause her problems in the Senate race.
Young and progressive voters "aren’t really anti-police," he said. "They’re against police brutality."
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