U.S. Rep. Val Demings launched her campaign for Senate Wednesday, challenging U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio under the theme “Never Tire.”
In a new campaign video, shot in front of the Jacksonville church Demings attended as a child, she said her background has prepared her for the race and the job.
“When you grow up in the South poor, Black and female, you have to have faith in progress and opportunity.”
The Congresswoman told the Orlando Sentinel her long-rumored bid starts now.
“I know how to get through tough times, and I think we would all agree that we’re in some really tough, unusual times right now,” Demings told the newspaper. “But I’m not afraid of a tough fight.”
In her launch video, Demings also cited her role as a manager in impeaching former President Donald Trump, saying “we brought law and order to a lawless President,” and tried to portray Rubio as a go-along Washington insider.
The move comes two days after Rubio told Fox News the Orlando Democrat “voted for socialist things” during her House tenure. That signaled his campaign messaging ahead of what’s expected to be one of the top Senate races in the country in 2022.
He released a statement after her launch labeling her House Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s “puppet.”
“Marco has consistently delivered for Florida families. 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,” the statement reads.
“Marco’s contrast with Val Demings could not be greater because she has no record of results for Florida. Since coming to Washington, she has voted with Nancy Pelosi nearly 100% of the time. She supported efforts to defund the police, opposed tax relief for working families, and led the effort to put Washington in charge of Florida’s elections. Florida deserves a Senator with a proven track record of fighting, and winning, for Florida families.”
Demings, meanwhile, signaled her own line of attack against the two-term incumbent during her interview with her hometown newspaper. She focused on familiar criticisms of Rubio as spineless and with a history of absenteeism.
“We need bold, courageous leaders to deal with those issues. And the bottom line is, too many times Marco Rubio did not show up,” she said. “And when he did, he did not have enough courage to fight for Florida.”
A matter sure to come up will be Demings’ role in the first Trump impeachment. She was among seven House impeachment managers who made the case in the Senate that Trump should be removed for strong-arming Ukrainian leadership. Rubio voted against impeachment and later voted against a second impeachment of Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, even as he criticized parts of Trump’s behavior and actions both times.
There is one area where Demings’ candidacy may neutralize right-wing messaging. She’s a former Orlando Police Chief and wife to Orange County Sheriff-turned-Mayor Jerry Demings. She has regularly pushed back on attempts to say Democrats want to defund the police, including a notable spat with U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan earlier this year during a House Judiciary Committee meeting.
In a press call on Wednesday afternoon, Demings dismissed the idea Republicans could make the “defund the police” line stick as a sign of desperation. She said from conversations from constituents, especially in Black and Brown neighborhoods, that’s not a message most voters embrace. As a career police officer who held every rank up to Chief, it’s not something she believes either.
“People do not say they want less police,” she said. “They just want to be treated with dignity and respect. Defunding the police is not the answer and I believe I have been pretty strong about that.”
Where she said government has failed is in addressing social ills that lead to higher rates of crime, suggesting the police have become the go-to answer for any government spending that gets cut, including mental health funding.
“Every time we have a societal failure, we call the police,” she said.
Her history in law enforcement was the subject of much of her launch video. Following a scene of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer praising Demings’ record as chief, the video notes historic decreases in violent crime under her watch.
“They said we’d never lower crime, but I said never tire,” Demings said. “And after that I still wasn’t tired.”
The theme of never tiring of service continues over the video, where Demings stays in motion the entire time. The fast-paced biographic video was reminiscent of the late Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone‘s famous “Fast Paced Paul” ads that helped him win a Senate seat in 1990.
She also turns the “Never Tire” message on Rubio. Her launch video includes clips of Rubio famously flubbing a 2016 presidential debate by relying too heavily on, as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called it at the time, the “same memorized 25-second speech.”
“There are some in Washington who prefer the same old tired ways of doing business,” Demings says over a photo montage of Rubio. “Too tired to fight the efforts to suppress the people’s vote, they fall back to tired talking points.”
U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, a Florida Republican who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, released a statement Wednesday.
“This is not the kind of leader Floridians want or need,” Scott said in the statement. “Congresswoman Val Demings is a Pelosi puppet just looking for a promotion. She’s supported the most radical, socialist policies of The Squad that would devastate Florida families. Senator Rubio has led the way in the Senate to fight for priorities every Florida family wants: more jobs, safe communities, a great education for their children and making sure freedom and democracy are preserved at home and across the globe.”
While some expected Demings this year to challenge Gov. Ron DeSantis, a run for Senate means she can bring with her a federal campaign account where, as of the end of March, she held $1,053,971 in cash on hand. She has also been able to raise more money there as she teased a Senate run.
Demings said she sincerely believes Florida needs a new Governor as well, but she ultimately wanted to run where she can make the most difference. Many of DeSantis’ worst actions, including efforts to suppress the vote and persecute transgender children, are ills pursued by Republican Governors around the country. It’s at the federal level a Senator can stop that from taking place.
Rubio, as of the end of March, had $3,935,319 in the bank.
She’s not the only Democrat running. Former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson launched a campaign earlier this week, and former Congressional candidate Allen Ellison has been running for months.
Rubio, a former state House speaker, was first elected to the Senate in 2010.
After an unsuccessful bid for President in 2016, he was reelected to a second term in the Senate. He received 52% of the vote in the 2016 race, easily defeating Democratic former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy.
Content from The News Service of Florida was used in this report.