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DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Lujan campaigns for Val Demings for CD 10, angering Democratic challengers

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan met with Orlando Hispanic leaders on behalf of Congressional District 10 candidate Val Demings Monday morning, angering her Democratic rivals, who said the party was out of bounds picking in a contested primary.

Lujan and Demings met with 18 Orlando-area Hispanic leaders Monday morning to seek support for the former Orlando police chief in the CD 10 race, even with three other significant Democrats running and a fourth who might join them.

Lujan would not talk on the record with media afterward, but the DCCC has long supported Demings in the race, encouraging her to run, providing money, and providing DCCC staff work to assist her campaign.

Later, his office sent over the following statement: “Chief Demings is exactly the kind of leader we need in Washington to help cure Republican dysfunction and find solutions for American families,” Lujan said. “Her record of service and knack for problem solving will make her a strong voice for all the people of this community, and I look forward to making sure Val Demings gets the chance to fight for Central Florida in Washington.”

Demings said she considered the DCCC backing “natural,” considering the Democratic congressional organization first recruited her to run in CD 10 in 2011. And she did well in that contest, barely losing to incumbent U.S. Rep. Dan Webster of Winter Garden, in 2012, when the district still leaned Republican. It now leans heavily Democratic, and Webster is mulling running in a different district.

“I am glad they are supporting me in this race. I see no reason why they would not,” Demings said of the DCCC. “I did well under tougher circumstances. I take nothing for granted. I am earning the support of the DCCC every day, and everybody else who has endorsed in this race and everyone who around this table and the people in the district.”

Yet a primary looms, with current state Sen. Geraldine Thompson, longtime Democratic operative Bob Poe, and Orlando lawyer Fatima Rita Fahmy. What’s more, the prospect that U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville might switch to CD 10 from her Congressional District 5 remains a distinct possibility.

Fahmy crashed the Demings campaign/DCCC-sponsored closed-door breakfast at the Pio Pio Latin Cuisine restaurant Monday, and was afforded a few minutes to speak to the gathering. Unlike Demings, she talked to the group in Spanish. Fahmy, who is Brazilian-American, also speaks Portuguese.

“I was not going to sit back and watch the party ignore the only Latina candidate in this race,” she said afterward.

“The DCCC does not get to decide who the next congressman will be from Central Florida. I’m going to have something to say about that. The people in District 10 are going to have something to say about that.”

Thompson and Poe said much the same thing. Thompson said the DCCC had told her in September that it would remain neutral, “but that’s obviously not the case.”

“To have the party come to your district to campaign for one of four Democrats who are in the race, I think is unfair,” Thompson said. “And it’s an attempt to force onto the Central Florida community the candidate D.C. wants, rather than the candidate that people know and have worked with for over a decade.”

Poe said he was disappointed that the DCCC is “putting their thumb on the scale for one candidate or another.”

“But ultimately, this race is going to be decided by the people of the 10th congressional district, rather than by the power brokers in Washington,” he said.

In the end, Demings walks away with the DCCC support anyway, and perhaps the support of many of the Hispanic leaders who heard from Lujan, a four-term congressman from New Mexico.

“It was a very good meeting, very productive, having an opportunity to meet with representatives of the Latino community and talk about the issues that are important to them,” Demings said. “When you look at the political landscape, from the national races on down, people are worried about being able to earn a decent wage, being able to take care of themselves in their senior years, being able to make sure their children have access to a decent education. What you find is even though we come from different backgrounds, different ethnicities, people are concerned about the same things. And who we elect matters.”

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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