‘The real kickoff is after Labor Day’: Val Demings leads in fundraising, but polls favor Marco Rubio (for now)

'There’s a clear contrast in this race ...'

On paper, Republican Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is headed for a repeat of the overwhelming victory he secured when he last faced the voters six years ago. At least for now.

The analysts at FiveThirtyEight.com are giving the GOP incumbent a 94 percent chance of winning a third term in the Senate. His likely Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando, gets only a 6% chance in the FiveThirtyEight mashup of polls in the race.

Still, she’s edging Rubio in fundraising at last word. Federal Elections Commission disclosures for the most recent quarter are due on July 15, but as of March 31 Demings had raised nearly $30.8 million while Rubio has raised nearly $30.1 million since Jan. 2021.

Still, most voters won’t focus on the election until after Labor Day in September, Susan MacManus, a political analyst and University of South Florida professor emerita, argued during a telephone interview last week with the Florida Phoenix.

“There has long been a tradition in Florida that for general elections the real kickoff is after Labor Day when kids are back in school and holidays are over and vacations are over and people then start to focus on politics,” McManus said.

“It’s just hard to really focus people’s attention in the summer,” she said. “It’s hot, kids are home, vacations, financial struggles, all kinds of stuff are really making this campaign season a lot more difficult to get voters’ attention,” she continued.

“Polls this early are really about trying to get name recognition, so I don’t put a lot of stock in them. But, obviously, if Republicans are doing well elsewhere then Rubio probably will too. Everything is tied together.”

Law-and-order is a key issue

Rubio, of Miami, is a former Florida House Speaker first elected to the Senate in 2010 who trounced Democratic candidate Patrick Murphy for re-election in 2016 after a failed run for president. POLITICO reported in 2016 that Rubio “easily defended his Senate seat … by an expected wide margin.”

Demings, a former chief of police in Orlando, came in strong out of the gate in terms of fundraising, reporting $10 million during this year’s first quarter. According to her campaign, that was “the most ever in Q1 by a Florida U.S. Senate challenger.”

Demings made history as Orlando’s first female police chief in 2007, according to Ballotpedia. She served in that position from 2007 to 2012.

That said, Rubio has garnered support from at least 55 Florida sheriffs and police groups in Florida, including the Florida Fraternal Order of Police and the Florida Police Benevolent Association.

They have attempted to paint Demings as supporting the “defund the police” movement, despite her own history in law enforcement. She’s also debunked those claims through recent campaign ads.

Rubio has been releasing campaign videos featuring his law enforcement endorsements.

“There’s a clear contrast in this race between Sen. Rubio, who repeatedly delivers results for the people of Florida, and Val Demings, a [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi Puppet who votes for Biden’s agenda 100% of the time — even though it’s not in the best interest of Floridians — and has zero substantive accomplishments,” Elizabeth Gregory, Rubio’s campaign spokesperson, said in an email to the Phoenix:

Following mass shootings in both Uvalde, Texas and Buffalo, New York, and elsewhere teachers’ union and gun safety advocates in Florida called on Rubio to take action on gun reform. The Florida Education Association was joined by gun violence survivors, teachers, and other groups at a rally in June to demand that Rubio act.

Ad war

Demings launched her first TV campaign ad in June, touching on her 27-year career in law enforcement.

Devon Cruz, Press Secretary for the Demings campaign, said in an email that “Chief Demings is taking her campaign to every corner of the state, going into every community, and sharing her message.”

“And when people hear her story, she wins,” Cruz said. “Floridians need a senator who is willing to take on the tough fights and represent everyone from Jacksonville to Tampa, from Tallahassee to Miami. Chief Demings will be that senator.”

Although there are other candidates running for the U.S. Senate, MacManus predicted Demings and Rubio will appear on the ballot in November, as those other candidates (Democrats, a Libertarian, and a few no-party-affiliations and write-ins) are “under the radar and people aren’t really looking at them that much.

“And because of that, they are not having to go out and raise money twice,” she said of Rubio and Demings, meaning for the primary and general elections. “Obviously, they are really into aggressive fundraising right now, but neither is spending bucket-loads of money, either.”

“At this stage in the campaign, you really want to raise a lot of money, round up your volunteers, supporters, and do a little campaigning on television and social media, which they are both doing somewhat.”

The election “is likely to be extremely competitive” and neither candidate “is getting a lot of attention other than the ads that are being run,” MacManus of USF said.

“That’s about it,” she said. “And some of the endorsements, which the everyday person doesn’t really follow that much.”

Abortion could be key

That said, reproductive rights could be a major issue surrounding the Senate election, as many GOP lawmakers push more restrictive laws on access to abortion care.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Demings’ campaign accused Rubio of supporting a total ban on abortions. She did so in a digital campaign ad in late June, showing a past clip of Rubio saying, “I believe Roe v. Wade should be overturned.”

Rubio’s campaign spokesperson didn’t respond to the Phoenix in an email about Rubio’s stance on abortion.

But Demings has made it clear that she wants to protect women’s reproductive rights. In a Twitter post on June 24, Demings said, “Marco Rubio wanted this,” referencing the Roe reversal. “I’m running to save Roe. And I’m running to win.”

Rubio says he is “pro-life” and even stated in a 2010 questionnaire that he “backed a constitutional amendment to ban abortions unless a pregnancy is life-threatening,” according to Business Insider.

PolitiFact provided an analysis of Rubio’s record on abortion in response to Demings’ ad in a June 30 report. “PolitiFact found that Demings was mostly accurate in her depiction of Rubio’s record. When contacted, Rubio’s campaign did not answer specific questions about his abortion stance.”


Issac Morgan reporting via Florida Phoenix.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: [email protected]. Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

Florida Phoenix

Florida Phoenix is a news and opinion outlet focused on government and political news coverage within the state of Florida.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704