U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s campaign is questioning the commitment of his challenger, U.S. Rep. Val Demings, to Florida’s agriculture industry. But the Orlando Democrat says Republicans like Rubio want to cut funding for farmers.
The Rubio campaign is highlighting two efforts driven by Rubio that received bipartisan support. One letter calls for an investigation into drug smuggling through Mexican fruit imports, and another from two weeks ago calls for an investigation into an increase of Mexican fruit imports that may make Florida’s agriculture industry less competitive.
Some Florida Democrats like U.S. Reps. Al Lawson and Debbie Wasserman Schultz signed the first letter, which was written in July. Meanwhile, the entire Florida delegation signed the subsequent letter except Demings, Democratic U.S. Reps. Lois Frankel and Stephanie Murphy, and Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz.
Notably, Lawson and Republican U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn signed both letters, and Lawson even helped garner support for the latter letter. The pair are competing for Florida’s 2nd Congressional District after redistricting grouped them into the same North Florida seat.
When it comes to farming, the Rubio campaign says Demings is missing in action.
“How can the Florida agriculture community trust that Demings will look out for their interests in the Senate when she clearly hasn’t done so in the House?” Rubio campaign spokeswoman Elizabeth Gregory wrote in a statement to Florida Politics. “All Do-Nothing Demings does is rename post offices and follow (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi’s lead 100% of the time.”
The first letter, submitted to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, asks the Department of Agriculture to provide an update on whether produce imports are enabling drug smuggling.
The second letter asks U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai to investigate “Mexico’s scheme to displace Florida’s seasonal and perishable agricultural industry from the U.S. market.” The United States remains Mexico’s top market for citrus exports.
While Demings didn’t sign the letters, her office told Florida Politics combating Mexican market manipulation is a “noncontroversial bipartisan issue that all of Florida’s representatives agree on.”
Demings’ Office pointed to her votes for the Farm Workforce Modernization Acts of 2019 and 2021 and for a 2018 measure that would have funded farm and nutrition programs through the 2023 fiscal year. Her also hammered Republican proposals to repeal crop block grants, technical assistance and market development programs, which her office says would hurt the competitiveness of Florida agriculture.
Additionally, the office highlighted Demings’ father and the time he spent picking oranges to support their family.
“Marco Rubio is a desperate man running a desperate campaign and he will lie about Chief Demings’ record to distract from the fact that he is bad for Florida,” Demings campaign spokesman Devon Cruz told Florida Politics. “Chief Demings has been proud to support Florida’s farmworkers in the House of Representatives, while Marco Rubio has worked to cut funding to farmers ever since his first term in the Senate.”
Demings will face Rubio in November in an attempt to deny the incumbent Republican a third term. With less than two months remaining, polls show Rubio a couple points ahead of Demings, and FiveThirtyEight gives Rubio an 86% chance of winning.