Florida’s Val Demings launches bid to oust Marco Rubio from Senate

U.S. Rep. Val Demings launched a bid for the U.S. Senate on Wednesday. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

U.S. Rep. Val Demings launched a bid for the U.S. Senate on Wednesday. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — U.S. Rep. Val Demings launched a bid for the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, raising hope among Democrats of ousting Republican Sen. Marco Rubio from the evenly divided chamber.

With the Senate now split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, the Florida race will undoubtedly be among the most high profile and expensive battles next year.

The Orlando congresswoman used a video on social media to begin introducing herself to a wider audience. In the video, Demings showcases her rise from a working-class background to become the police chief of one of Florida’s largest cities before ascending to the U.S. Congress. Demings was on the short list of potential running mates for now-President Joe Biden after helping lead the first impeachment against then-President Donald Trump.

Some Florida Democrats had hoped that Demings would instead take on Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is banking on reelection next year to help propel him for a possible run for the presidency in 2024.

In her Senate announcement video, Demings took aim at Trump, calling him a “lawless president.” Then she took aim at Rubio.

“There are some in Washington who prefer the same old tired ways of doing business,” she said, “too tired to fight the efforts to suppress the people’s vote. They fall back to tired talking points and backward solutions.”

Rubio hit back Wednesday, calling Demings, who was first elected to Congress in 2016, a “far left extremist” with an undistinguished legislative record.

“Look, I’ve always known that my opponent for the Senate was going to be a far left liberal Democrat. Today we just found out which one of them Chuck Schumer’s picked,” Rubio said in a video, referring to the top Democrat in the Senate. He called her a “do-nothing” member of the U.S. House.

That’s an argument Democrats have also made in the Senate against Rubio, who they charge has been more focused on pursuing political ambition, not accomplishment. Rubio announced he would not run for reelection six years ago to make a bid for the White House in 2016 but abandoned that effort after getting little traction.

If Demings wins the race, she would become only the third Black woman to serve in the Senate, after fellow Democrats Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, in the 1990s, and Kamala Harris of California, before she became Biden’s vice president.

“Desperate people will do and say desperate things,” Demings told the Orlando Sentinel in an interview ahead of her campaign launch, “and I don’t blame Rubio and the GOP for being very concerned about me running for the United States Senate against Marco Rubio.”

Demings is married to Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, also a former Orlando police chief.