Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is heavily favored to win re-election this cycle against a formidable challenger — Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings.
Rubio, Florida’s senior Senator who has served since 2011, is leading in just about every poll. Real Clear Politics’ average of polls puts Rubio at plus-7.5 points in the race while FiveThirtyEight gives Rubio a slightly smaller advantage at plus-7 points.
The advantage is driven by a number of factors in Florida this cycle. Since the 2020 election, Republicans have grown their voter registration numbers significantly and now carry a raw advantage over Democrats with nearly 200,000 more voters, according to the most recent L2 voter data.
That’s not the only trend on Rubio’s side. As the son of Cuban exiles, Rubio may find increased footing within the Latino voting community this cycle.
A Telemundo poll showed Rubio leading Demings by 7 percentage points among Hispanics just two weeks before Election Day, at 49% to 42%. Among those with Cuban backgrounds, Rubio led with 72% support to Demings’ 22%.
While Demings led among Puerto Ricans (59% to 32%) and other Hispanic voters (49% to 41%), trends show Republicans gaining ground among Hispanic voters nationwide, and particularly in Florida.
Former President Donald Trump, for example, grew his support among Hispanic voters from 35% in 2016 to 46% in 2020, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. That analysis suggested the trend may yet continue.
Furthermore, Demings doesn’t appear to be capitalizing on her experience as a law enforcement professional, with many law enforcement groups throughout the state instead backing Rubio.
The International Union of Police Associations became the latest law enforcement group to back Rubio. He also has nods from a bipartisan group of 56 of Florida’s 67 Sheriffs, the Florida Police Chiefs Association, the Florida Police Benevolent Association, the Florida Fraternal Order of Police and the National Association of Police Organizations.
IUPA International President Sam Cabral’s statement on his group’s endorsement hinted at why his organization did not endorse Demings, who was Orlando’s first female Police Chief and served a 27-year career in law enforcement.
“Many wrap themselves in the fabric of ‘law and order,’ and then forget those commitments upon entering office,” Cabral said, noting Rubio has “been beside us always.”
When Demings, whose campaign frequently refers to her as “Chief Demings,” filed her paperwork to challenge Rubio in May, she answered reporters’ questions about the fact that law enforcement was lining up behind her opponent.
“I know that Marco Rubio wished that he could get one of those Sheriffs or Chiefs to run for him against me. Maybe he’s using them as cover; I don’t know,” Demings said. “But what I do know is this, that Marco Rubio will have to run against me. This race is between him and me.”
The law enforcement support may stem from critics’ claims that Demings, in June 2020, praised the “defund the police” movement that emerged from Black Lives Matter protests that summer. But the cited statement was taken out of context, and she has consistently stated she opposes the idea.
And as part of a law enforcement package earlier this year, the U.S. House passed a bill Demings filed and sponsored, the VICTIM Act, which would allocate $1 billion to local police departments to hire victim support personnel. The bill received unanimous support from Democrats, plus the votes of 30 Republicans.
Still, the race has been driven by issues.
Demings and Rubio debated just once this cycle, a performance that frequently saw Demings on the offensive against the incumbent. They squared off on a number of top issues facing not only them, but candidates in races throughout the U.S.
Demings, like other Democrats hoping to seize on the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade and kicking abortion regulatory authority to states, attacked Rubio for his support for a federal 15-week abortion ban.
While the issue gave Democrats a brief surge in August and early September, outrage has since died down, with public sentiment shifting toward the economy, high inflation and rising gas prices.
Economic concerns have dominated airwaves, and Rubio centered on the argument that Democrats are to blame.
During the debate, Rubio noted that “Democrats were warned” big spending on pandemic relief packages would “fire up inflation.”
To end it, Rubio suggested “it begins by winning this election and getting people like that out of office,” gesturing to Demings.
Demings, meanwhile, hasn’t sat idly by while attacks on the economy roll in. She and the Florida Democratic Party launched their own offensive, attacking Rubio for joining fellow Republicans in the Senate on the Protecting Drug Innovation Act that would roll back the feds’ authority to negotiate, set and control drug prices under Medicare.
While Republicans like Rubio claim such controls “hurt Floridians” because they stifle innovation, Democrats argue the measure would cause patients to pay more for prescriptions because it would remove a cap limiting seniors’ out-of-pocket drug costs to $2,000 per year.
“Shame on him for leading the fight to hike drug prices on Florida’s seniors and putting Big Pharma special interests ahead of doing what’s right,” Demings said in a prepared statement after the act was introduced.
The Florida Democratic Party also put out a statement pointing out how Rubio has accepted more than $1 million from the drug industry.
Demings is also enjoying support from a group that would have once been considered an unlikely ally. The Lincoln Project, comprised of anti-Donald Trump Republicans, launched a 60-second television spot mocking Rubio for supporting former President Trump. If he’s so pro-law enforcement, the ad questions, why “does he spend so much time defending” Trump, who “is at the center of 19 pending criminal and civil cases.”
“Rubio backs Trump, not law and order,” it contends before going on to tout Demings’ “record of service, bravery and putting her life on the line for a safer Florida.”
While Rubio has the advantage in the race — through incumbency, polling, election cycle trends and history — Florida elections can have surprises. But it would take a major upset at this point for Democrats to wrest Rubio’s seat from GOP control.