For months, this year’s U.S. Senate race looked like Marco Rubio’s toughest election fight yet.
Tuesday night proved he wouldn’t be bested. Florida’s Republican senior senator leapt out to an insurmountable double-digit lead over Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings, according to preliminary election results.
“After tonight, the Republican Party will never be the same, and that’s a great thing for America,” said Rubio, 51, speaking from his election night celebration in Miami. “You know what we call people who are Black, white, Hispanic, Asian and are men and women, who come from other countries. You know what we call them in Florida? We call them Americans.”
The Associated Press called the race shortly after 8 p.m., when polls closed in the Florida Panhandle.
[See all the latest election results here.]
Rubio’s second term almost didn’t happen. In 2016, after a failed bid for the presidency, Rubio stated he wouldn’t seek reelection. But he reversed course in the summer, motivated, he said, by the Senate’s pivotal role in acting as “a check and balance on the excesses of a president.”
His second term was defined by legislative accomplishments such as the Paycheck Protection Program, and some controversial votes: Approving the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, for example.
Demings, 65, a three-term U.S. representative from the Orlando area, came out of the gates strong in her race to challenge Rubio’s bid for a third term. Her campaign raised more than $73 million — including nearly $53 million from donations of $200 or less, according to federal campaign finance data.
As the Black daughter of working-class parents who rose to the top of the Orlando Police Department, she told voters a compelling personal story about her unlikely political rise. Democrats hoped Demings would be immune to attacks from Republicans that she is too extreme or anti-police.
During the campaign, Rubio tried to paint Demings as anti-police anyway. In statements, he pointed to the dozens of law enforcement agencies that endorsed him. His campaign also ran a television advertisement in which a police officer said Demings “turned her back on law enforcement.”
But perhaps more than any single issue, Demings likely suffered from a factor that torpedoed the chances of many Democrats nationwide Tuesday: Voters’ disapproval of President Joe Biden. With the president’s approval ratings hovering around 41%, Rubio repeatedly assailed Demings for voting with Biden 100% of the time.
With several national races outstanding — Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona and others — it was unclear as of Tuesday night whether Rubio would serve in a Republican-controlled Senate.
Get insights into Florida politics
Subscribe to our free Buzz newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
For her part, Demings, speaking at an Orlando watch party, said she was grateful to her campaign staff and to her family.
“I am not tired. I am not weary, and when I look around and see your faces, I am not defeated!” Demings said just minutes after her race was called. “This election may be over, but there are dreams that are still alive.”
Grethel Aguila of the Miami Herald contributed to this report.
• • •
We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the elections in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription. Or click here to make a donation to the Tampa Bay Times Journalism Fund.