Val Demings will challenge Marco Rubio for his U.S. Senate in 2022 rather than run for Florida Governor, several sources familiar with her decision-making process tell Florida Politics.
“Over the last week, (there have been) serious conversations and enthusiasm from leadership about her candidacy,” said a top Democratic fundraiser who has been advising Demings. “Announcement coming in next couple weeks.”
Demings’ decision to run for the U.S. Senate was first reported by Marc Caputo of POLITICO.
After the report published early Tuesday, a Demings adviser said the third-term Congresswoman and former Orlando Police Chief is expected to make an announcement in the coming weeks.
Demings also advised supporters to “stay tuned” Tuesday as she “seriously” considers a run for the U.S. Senate. She then confirmed on Twitter that she is looking at Rubio’s seat.
“I’m humbled at the encouraging messages I’m seeing today,” Demings tweeted shortly after noon. “I know the stakes are too high for Republicans to stand in the way of getting things done for Floridians, which is why I’m seriously considering a run for the Senate. Stay tuned.”
In Demings, many Florida Democrats believe they have the ideal candidate to run against Rubio.
“Val is a powerhouse candidate like Democrats haven’t had run for Senate in decades,” said one Democratic strategist who has worked with Demings. “She brings momentum and instant credibility in Florida and nationally. And she has a unique ability to overcome the typical Republican attacks.”
“Rubio is in for the fight of his life,” said prominent Democratic trial lawyer John Morgan, who notes that Demings “being a cop will be an advantage in the General” Election.
The likelihood that Demings will take on Rubio rather than Ron DeSantis is a result of a non-stop courtship by national Democrats and U.S. Senate leadership who, like most observers of Florida politics, believe Rubio is an easier target than DeSantis, who has become, arguably, the second most popular Republican in the country behind former President Donald Trump.
“While Democrats are flailing to find their next candidate to advance their radical agenda, Senator Rubio is focused on delivering wins for the people of Florida,” Rubio said in a statement issued through a spokesman.
One Democratic fundraiser, not connected to Demings, suggested that DeSantis’ eye-popping fundraising numbers may have factored in Demings’ thinking.
“It spooked her,” said the fundraiser, who works often with the Florida Alliance, a coalition of wealthy progressive donors. “She was originally set to announce for Governor before Memorial Day but that $14 million changed that.” The $14 million is a reference to DeSantis’ fundraising haul for the month of April.
With Demings challenging Rubio for the U.S. Senate, the initial thinking is that this will change the calculus for another Central Florida Democrat, U,S, Rep. Stephanie Murphy, but that may not be the case.
Last week, Axios reported that Murphy would announce in June that she would mount a statewide bid. In a statement sent to the Orlando Sentinel, campaign spokesperson Lauren Calmet said Murphy “has not made a decision on whether to run for the U.S. Senate.”
“It’s become clear to me that the only thing Marco Rubio cares about is Marco Rubio, so I think he needs to retire or be retired,” Murphy said in Tallahassee on Monday night.
Many of the same Democratic insiders saying Demings will run for U.S. Senate are also saying Murphy won’t compete in a primary against Demings if Demings pulls the trigger on her own bid. The two have neighboring districts. In 2016 they often campaigned together as they both burst into Congress. Since then, they have worked closely together on numerous bills to aid Central Florida on matters ranging from anti-terrorism funding to airport security to the Pulse memorial.
However, if you talk to those closest to Murphy, it sounds as if she still intends to enter the race, setting up a tough, but exciting primary versus her Central Florida colleague.
Demings is coming off a two-year run in which her national standing has skyrocketed.
As a leading congressional critic of President Trump, she was a key player in his first impeachment, first in committee hearings, then as a House impeachment manager. As a former Orlando Police Chief, she has drawn attention as an insider’s advocate of law enforcement reform. Last summer she was being widely discussed as a potential running mate to now-President Joe Biden.
“Val Demings is the candidate Democrats need now,” said one top-rank Democratic fundraiser who has met with Demings to discuss a 2022 bid. “She is a force of nature, whose grit and passion has captured the national spotlight even getting her on the shortlist for VP. She is from the coveted I-4 corridor, has the power to rebuild the party and will unabashedly challenge DeSantis.”
Just last month, she had yet another national media moment when she took on Republican firebrand Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio in a way that both expressed Demings’ strong ties to law enforcement while also providing support for progressives’ desires for law enforcement reform. The exchange was widely replayed by national media and on social media.
“Her background as a police chief prepares her to talk about two of the most urgent issues facing the country: systemic racism and police reform,” said a prominent Democratic lobbyist. “Her story has captured the imagination of America and she is the best shot for Democrats to win back the Governor’s Mansion.”
Last month, Demings brought on Zack Carroll, who managed the 2020 South Carolina U.S. Senate campaign of now DNC Chair Jaime Harrison.
University of Central Florida political science professor Aubrey Jewett said he wouldn’t be surprised if Demings went for the Democratic senatorial nomination, potentially taking on a field that could include Murphy, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson and Aramis Ayala, a former State Attorney in the 9th Judicial Circuit in Orange and Osceola counties.
Jewett said Demings is possibly weighing which race offers the best chance of winning and which office she would be best suited for. Jewett added he would consider Demings the early front runner in a Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, but she wouldn’t clear the field.
“Demings getting in the race potentially further divides the women’s vote in the Democratic primary. So, there’s that,” Jewett said. “In terms of race and ethnicity. I think it creates a matchup if Ayala gets in the race. If she has a weakness, it’s the fact that she (Demings) has a police background. For a number of young progressives, that’s not a plus. In the general election it might be. But for that particular group of voters in the Democratic primary it’s not.”
But within the party, Demings has been taking on a bigger role.
The Collective PAC, which focuses on raising Black political engagement, quickly backed Demings, noting Tuesday morning in a news release she would become the first Black person and second woman elected as a U.S. senator from Florida.
“There has never been a more crucial time for us to elect leaders who are committed to criminal justice reform, safeguarding voting rights and ensuring government officials are held accountable for unethical behavior,” Collective co-founders Quentin James and Stefanie Brown James jointly said.
Senate Majority PAC, a Washington, D.C.-based Democratic super PAC, was already raising money off the POLITICO story Tuesday.
“This morning, it was reported that Democratic Representative Val Demings of Florida will run to unseat Republican Senator Marco Rubio — growing the field of Democratic candidates vying to flip this GOP-held seat,” an email fundraiser said. “2022 Is our chance to finally send Trump-endorsed Marco Rubio packing (and expand our Democratic Senate majority in the process).”
Demings is serving her third term in Congress in what is currently a safe district, but it could be significantly redrawn during the next round of redistricting. She’s a former Orlando Police Chief. She is married to Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, giving her a strong base of support in Central Florida.
He, too, has been prodded by some supporters to consider a gubernatorial run, though he has not been reported making any moves.
The field of Democrats considering taking on DeSantis in 2022 includes only one announced candidate, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, although Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried teased a June 1 launch for her own gubernatorial bid. She has taken seemingly every opportunity to be the state’s leading DeSantis’ critic.
Others, including state Sens. Randolph Bracy of Ocoee and Annette Taddeo of Miami have reportedly been exploring prospects as well, however Taddeo seemed to indicate last week that she would run for reelection to the Senate rather than pursue statewide office.
Many Central Florida political observers expect that if Demings does run for Senate or Governor, Bracy would run for her seat in Florida’s 10th Congressional District.
As previously stated. redistricting is likely to significantly redraw that district, as well as Murphy’s adjacent Florida’s 7th Congressional District and also is likely to add a new Central Florida seat. So it’s unclear who might wind up in which district and which party might have advantages.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this post. Republished with permission.