Val Demings plans to challenge Marco Rubio in Florida Senate race

Steven Sloan
Associated Press

Washington — Florida Rep. Val Demings is planning to challenge Sen. Marco Rubio next year, giving Democrats a boost in a competitive race that could be among a handful that determine control of the Senate, according to two people with knowledge of the plans.

The move ends mounting speculation over the Orlando congresswoman’s political future. She had been considering a run for governor in Florida but may have faced a divisive primary against Rep. Charlie Crist, who has already joined that race. In focusing on the Senate instead, Demings could quickly become a front-runner among Democrats and tap into a national network of fundraisers who could help finance what will likely be an expensive campaign.

Rep. Val Demings.

We're offering a great deal on all-access subscriptions. Check it out here.

First elected to Congress in 2016, the 64-year-old Demings’ national profile has rapidly expanded. She was an impeachment manager during the first trial against President Donald Trump and was considered a leading contender to be Joe Biden’s running mate. As the first female police chief in Orlando, she is particularly appealing to some Democrats for her experience as a Black woman with a background in law enforcement.

Her plans were first reported by Politico.

While Demings’ entrance in the race will attract attention, Rubio is still a formidable candidate. Elected during the tea party wave of 2010, he easily won reelection in 2016. Florida, meanwhile, has steadily trended in favor of Republicans. After twice backing Barack Obama, the state swung to Trump in 2016. Trump added to his margin last year, carrying the state by more than 3 percentage points and making inroads with some Latino voters, who dominate politics in Florida’s southern tip.

Demings’ three-and-a-half-year tenure as police chief could become a vulnerability in a primary where progressives, who are often leery of law enforcement, could be key.

Demings led a police force that has grappled with a long record of excessive-force allegations. Demings often faced calls for reforms and more transparency during her tenure, which ended in 2011.

From 2010 to 2014, the police department faced at least 47 lawsuits against its officers and paid out more than $3.3 million in damages, according to an investigation by local news station WFTV.

And an Orlando Sentinel investigation covering the same period found that Orlando officers used force in 5.6% of arrests – more than twice the rate of some other police agencies – and used force disproportionately against Black suspects.

Demings’ defenders note she was credited with reducing violent crime in the city by 40% at the time of her retirement from the department.

–––

Associated Press writer Alexandra Jaffe contributed to this report.