In a decision that will have widespread political ramifications nationally and in Florida, Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando is planning to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in 2022, top Democrats said Tuesday.
First reported by Politico, the decision takes Demings, who was Orlando’s first Black woman police chief, out of the running for governor, the other premier state race next year. She was long considered a possible contender against other Democrats, such as U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, in what could be an uphill battle against incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis. Instead, Demings will challenge Rubio in a race that could determine if Democrats hold on to their control of the Senate.
A Demings adviser told the Tampa Bay Times that Demings is planning a formal announcement in June.
Orlando personal injury attorney John Morgan told the Times he spoke with Demings on Monday and she made it clear to him that she is running for the U.S. Senate.
“She had two roads to go, to run for governor or Senate,” Morgan said. “But she had a lot of reasons behind running for the Senate. She’s worried about the gridlock in D.C. and advancing (President Joe Biden’s) agenda. Rubio’s also probably more vulnerable than DeSantis is.”
In a tweet Tuesday, Demings confirmed that she’s seriously considering a run for the Senate.
“I’m humbled at the encouraging messages I’m seeing today,” she wrote. “I know the stakes are too high for Republicans to stand in the way of getting things done for Floridians, which is why I’m seriously considering a run for the Senate. Stay tuned.”
Demings, 64, won an Orlando seat in Congress in 2016. She rose to national prominence after she became one of the first Democrats to call for former President Donald Trump’s impeachment after the release of the Robert Mueller investigative report in 2019. As one of the impeachment managers in the U.S. House, she impressed many with her authoritative questioning of witnesses. She was later considered on a short list of names for Biden’s vice president.
She told the Times in a December interview that she was considering her options and that early this year she would sit down with her family, which includes her husband, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, to determine what to do.
Morgan, who is a political independent, said Demings represents the “freshest face” in Florida Democratic politics and may boost turnout for the party in other races, including governor.
“Whoever gets the nomination for governor will benefit in having Demings on the ballot because turnout among Black voters will be high,” Morgan said. He said Demings’ law enforcement background won’t be a deterrent to liberal voters in a general election and will help shield Democrats in a general election.
“Republicans will never be able to say that she supports defunding the police,” Morgan said. “And out of Washington, that and socialism will be their key talking points.”
Rubio wouldn’t comment specifically on a Demings challenge, but said Tuesday he welcomed the campaign.
“Democrats are going to run somebody,” he said on Capitol Hill. “They’ll have a primary and someone will come out of their primary. We look forward to comparing their record to ours, what I stand for to what they stand for.”
Crist, a former Republican governor who is now a Democrat, said Demings would “be a great candidate for the Senate.”
“I find it very encouraging to the future of our party,” he said.
Demings will likely have to face other Democrats in a primary for the Senate seat. U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, another Orlando area Democrat, is widely believed to be considering a run. She has traveled across Florida in recent weeks to introduce herself to a broader audience. Those close to her say she is expected to make a decision soon.
Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson has also signaled he is considering a run. He ran for the same Senate seat in 2016 but lost in the Democratic primary to Patrick Murphy, who went on to lose to Rubio in the general election.
Demings could be one of several Black women seeking statewide office next year. In neighboring Georgia, Stacey Abrams may launch a second campaign to become the nation’s first Black woman governor after narrowly losing the race in 2018. And in North Carolina, Cheri Beasley, the first Black woman to serve as that state’s Supreme Court chief justice, has already announced a Senate campaign.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.