Florida Congresswoman Val Demings, one of about a dozen women on a shortlist of possible running mates to presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, took aim at Vice President Mike Pence Tuesday ahead of a planned visit to the state.
With Pence stopping in Orlando Wednesday to meet with hospitality and tourism boosters, the Central Florida congresswoman unloaded on the vice president. She said President Donald Trump administration’s coronavirus task force chief has done too little to protect seniors and Florida families, and dismissed his plans to also drop off protective equipment at a nursing home as empty symbolism.
“Here we are again. Another smoke-and-mirrors moment,” Demings said during a video conference hosted by the Florida Democratic Party. “The president and vice president want you to take your eyes off the real condition on the ground. Pay no attention to the people who have died. Pay no attention to the people who are sick.”
Pence’s visit to Orlando — which includes a sit-down with Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to discuss his efforts to reopen the economy — comes as the Trump administration pushes states to loosen stay-at-home restrictions implemented in March and April in order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Florida’s daily count of confirmed coronavirus cases has hit a plateau in recent weeks, but the state’s confirmed death toll surpassed 2,000 Tuesday.
“There’s a difference between taking a matter seriously and the appearance of doing so,” Demings said.
The Trump campaign dismissed Demings’ barbs as opportunistic politicking. “While Florida Democrats are busy politicizing a national emergency, President Trump, Vice President Pence, Republican leadership in Congress and Governor DeSantis have led a bold, whole-of-America approach to slowing the spread of coronavirus,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Emma Vaughn said in a statement.
But Florida’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic remains crucial for President Donald Trump, who lives in Palm Beach. And Tuesday was a dry run of sorts for Demings, a two-term congresswoman representing parts of Orange County.
Possible VP picks
This month, Biden acknowledged his interest in Demings, 63, during an interview with Orlando’s WFTV9, saying that the congresswoman “is one a group of close to a dozen really qualified and talented women who are on the list.”
A Biden campaign spokesman declined to say this week whether Demings is still under consideration. A Florida Democratic Party spokeswoman would not let Demings answer a question from the Miami Herald on Tuesday’s conference call about whether she’d spoken to the Biden campaign.
Demings, a former social worker who served as Orlando’s first female police chief from 2007 to 2011, has a rising national profile after serving as one of seven impeachment managers for House Democrats during Trump’s January trial in the U.S. Senate.
She is not the front-runner to land the job and is far from the best-known candidate to potentially join Biden on the Democratic ticket. U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren — all former presidential candidates — are under consideration, as is Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan.
Biden is also under some pressure to consider a Latina for his running mate.
But in battleground Florida, some activists and consultants think Demings could help Biden win her home state, which Democrats believe Trump must carry again in order to be reelected to another four years. Recent public polls have shown Biden with modest leads over Trump in Florida, despite the heavy amount of attention paid by the president’s campaign to his home state.
“Congresswoman Demings would be a huge benefit to the Biden campaign in Florida,” said Scott Arceneaux, a Democratic strategist and former executive director of the state party. “She’s a Jacksonville native, very popular in the Orlando market and amazingly dynamic on the stump.”
Some see Demings’ law enforcement career as a plus, believing it could help lure more moderate independent voters to side with Biden in a state where top-of-ticket races are often decided by narrow margins. Demings, who is African-American, could also help Biden boost turnout among Florida’s nearly 2 million black voters.
“As Florida’s stock goes up, Val’s stock goes up,” said a Democratic strategist familiar with the Biden campaign’s thinking.
At home along I-4
Another plus for Demings: her location in Orange County, a Democratic stronghold along Interstate 4 — a key battleground and media market that is likely to draw some of the heaviest TV spending from the Trump and Biden campaigns. Demings is also married to Orange County mayor and former county sheriff Jerry Demings.
On Wednesday, Ruth’s List Florida, a political non-profit that promotes women in the state, is hosting a call with Demings. An invitation encourages participants to “see why pundits, experts and insiders see #BidenDemings as the winning combination this November.”
“This woman came from a very very humble background and has made her claim to fame, her professional career all on her own, on her own merits,” Pamela Goodman, president of Ruth’s List Florida, said in an interview. “She came in with a law enforcement background combined with a legal background. It clearly makes her quite unique and special.”
Demings issued a statement to the Miami Herald through a spokesman in which she said she’s “absolutely honored to be considered for such an important responsibility during such a critical time for a nation.”
Still, she did not say if she’s spoken to Biden’s campaign.