WASHINGTON (AP) — Florida Rep. Val Demings is planning to challenge Sen. Marco Rubio, giving Democrats a boost in a competitive 2022 race that could decide control of the Senate, according to two people with knowledge of the plans.
The move ends mounting speculation over the congresswoman’s political future. She had been considering a run for governor in Florida but may have faced a divisive primary against Rep. Charlie Crist, who has already joined that race. In focusing on the Senate instead, Demings could quickly become a front-runner among Democrats and tap into a national network of fundraisers who could help finance what will likely be an expensive campaign.
First elected to Congress in 2016 to represent a district near Orlando, the 64-year-old Demings’ national profile has rapidly expanded. She was an impeachment manager during the first trial against President Donald Trump and was considered a leading contender to be Joe Biden’s running mate. As the first female police chief in Orlando, she is particularly appealing to some Democrats for her experience as a Black woman with a background in law enforcement.
Her plans were first reported by Politico.
While Demings’ entrance in the race will attract attention, Rubio is still a formidable candidate. Elected during the tea party wave of 2010, he easily won reelection in 2016. Florida, meanwhile, has steadily trended in favor of Republicans. After twice backing Barack Obama, the state swung to Trump in 2016. Trump added to his margin last year, carrying the state by more than 3 percentage points and making inroads with some Latino voters, who dominate politics in Florida’s southern tip.
And Demings’ three-and-a-half-year tenure as Orlando’s first female police chief could become a vulnerability in a primary where progressive voters leery of law enforcement could be key.
Demings led a police force that has grappled with a long record of excessive-force allegations and calls for reforms and more transparency for years before, during and after her tenure, which ended in 2011.
An Orlando Sentinel investigation covering the years from 2010 to 2014 found that Orlando officers used force in 5.6% of arrests — more than twice the rate of some other police agencies — and used force disproportionately against Black suspects.
Demings’ defenders note she was credited with reducing violent crime in the city by 40% at the time of her retirement from the department.
Associated Press writer Alexandra Jaffe contributed to this report.