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Amid vice president buzz, Val Demings rallies Hillsborough Democrats at virtual fundraiser

‘America is on fire and the president is going around putting gasoline on every situation,’ the Orlando Democrat said.

Was that Joe Biden’s running mate pumping up Hillsborough County Democrats on Saturday night?

If the latest vice presidential buzz surrounding U.S. Rep. Val Demings is for real, then it’s certainly a possibility.

The Orlando Democrat made a guest appearance at the local party’s annual spring fundraiser, where she appeared well practiced at needling President Donald Trump as though she was already Biden’s pick.

“America is on fire,” Demings said to the virtual audience, “and the president is going around putting gasoline on every situation.”

Related: Will Joe Biden make a former Florida police chief his 2020 running mate?

Demings, a two-term congresswoman, first entered the national spotlight earlier this year as one of the impeachment managers for House Democrats. She was considered a long-shot for Biden’s No. 2, but the national unrest in response to the killing of George Floyd has elevated her to the short list.

As a black woman and a former patrolwoman-turned-Orlando police chief, Demings has a unique lived experience and Democrats have leaned on her voice to help guide the party in recent weeks. Last week, she penned an op-ed for the Washington Post aimed at police officers with the provocative opening line: “As a former woman in blue, let me begin with my brothers and sisters in blue: What in the hell are you doing?”

“Her life story is amazing,” said Dave Cutler, president of the Hillsborough LGBTA Democratic Caucus, “and I think that there is no one who would speak with greater authority on reforming police departments than a police chief herself.”

Hillsborough Democrats basked in the hype surrounding Demings and the prospect of a Floridian joining Biden on the ticket. Attendees christened her “VP Val” and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, introduced Demings by throwing support behind her colleague.

“It’s time for Val Demings to take the next step,” said Castor, who endorsed Demings for the job last week.

In the veepstakes, as it’s called, hype can be fleeting and the candidate with the most chatter doesn’t always get the nod. With just two years of Congressional experience, Demings would be an unconventional pick. But after the events of the last week, there’s significant pressure for Biden to pick a woman of color for his running mate.

Hillsborough County school board candidate Jessica Vaughn, a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary, acknowledged that some progressives like herself are uncomfortable with Demings’ police background.

But she added: “I’ve seen (Demings) speak three or four times in person and she always inspires me. We need to elevate black voices.”

Democrats are also optimistic that Demings could help Biden win Florida, a state Trump carried in 2016 and where the blue wave didn’t materialize in 2018. Trump has few paths to re-election without the Sunshine State.

Last week, Trump moved the Republican National Convention to Jacksonville, which Demings said was a sign that Trump “is worried about Florida.”

“If we deny him Florida, we deny him a second term,” Demings said.

More than 500 people registered for the Hillsborough Democratic fundraiser, which was held in a virtual forum because of the coronavirus. Demings’ remarks lasted about seven minutes and she spent much of the time hyping the man she could join on the ticket.

“We are fighting for the rule of law, we are fighting for our precious democracy and we are fighting, as Joe Biden says, for the soul of America,” Demings said. “I thank god we have a clear choice.”