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The Representative of the 10th congressional district of Florida, Val Demings (D) plans to announce her intentions to run for the Senate seat currently occupied by GOP Senator Marco Rubio, according to a report published by Politico. Marco Rubio’s Senate seat, the entire House delegation of Florida and the Governorship will be on the ballot in the 2022 midterms.
Demings, who rose to prominence when she was selected as one of the House managers to the first impeachment of President Trump in 2020, was elected to the House in 2018 after serving as the chief of police of Orlando from 2007-2011. She had been previously reported as a possible candidate for the governor’s race, with polls showing her lagging behind both Gov. DeSantis and potential primary contender Charlie Christ.
However, it appears that the three-term Representative has decided to set her political aim towards the Senate and remaining in Washington D.C rather than moving to Tallahassee. According to sources cited by Politico, the lawmaker decided to move against Rubio instead of DeSantis due to her apparent frustration over Senate Republicans “obstruction” to Biden’s agenda.
Val Demings would first have to win the Democratic primary for the Senate nomination, a post that apparently is being pursued by at least another three Democratic politicians of the Orlando area. However, her relatively high name recognition might make it easier for the congresswoman to gain the nomination for the Senate seat, or at least easier than trying to defeat former governor Charlie Crist in the Democratic primary for the governor’s race.
Demings would also face a very tough challenge in flipping the Senate seat blue, mainly for three reasons: she is facing a seasoned politician who has already won two statewide races, she will be running as part of the president’s party in a midterm election, and Democrats have struggled in Florida since their last major statewide win in 2012.
Marco Rubio is no stranger to winning elections in Florida
Rubio, who first won the senate seat in 2010 as part of the Tea Party movement that swept the nation, will be defending his seat for a second time after he easily won his 2016 reelection by a healthy margin. The Junior Senator for Florida has become one of the most easily recognized faces of the GOP during the 2010s and was even dubbed “the Republican savior” in a now-infamous Time magazine cover in 2013.
However, times have changed since that cover was published and Rubio’s meteoric career to the top of the GOP suffered a blow in 2016 when he was defeated by then-reality TV star Donald Trump for the Republican nomination for the Presidency, although the Senator has shown his willingness to consider a 2024 presidential race if circumstances allow it.
Regardless of Rubio’s future plans in the brutal field of national politics, he will need to retain his Florida Senate seat in any case. Senators who run for president are not a rare occurrence: JFK and his brothers did it in the 1960s and 80s, President Biden did it in 1988, Hillary Clinton and Obama also did it in 2008, and so did late war hero and Senator for Arizona John McCain in 2008.
There are good reasons for this, as senators are relatively safe from the immediate risk of getting voted out of office due to their long six-year terms, and they are also able to use their position to keep their political brands nationally relevant by engaging on the issues and controversies that rob the national attention of both voters and the media.
Despite his failed attempt at winning a national contest in 2016, Rubio is definitely not a green boy in Florida politics. He served as speaker of the Florida House of Representatives when he was just 34-years-old and managed to earn the prized Senate seat in 2010, defeating both the Democratic candidate and former GOP-turned-independent Governor Charlie Crist by healthy margins in the 2010 election.
He also increased his vote share in 2016, despite not being able to win the state in the presidential primary, earning 52% of the vote (up from 49% in 2010). In fact, Rubio managed to win both a higher total vote count and percentage than President Trump in Florida, with the former having more than 200,000 more votes than the latter in the 2016 elections.
Taking Marco Rubio’s Senate seat will be a difficult task for Rep. Val Demings
Besides the fact that Rubio will be a formidable opponent who is well-versed in the arena of Floridian politics, Demings will also face a couple of critical challenges for her plans to get herself a promotion to the Senate floor: Florida has become increasingly Republican and the midterms tend to harm the party on power.
The first fact has become painfully clear for Florida Democrats, who have failed to win almost every single statewide race since 2012, with the exception of Nikki Fried’s narrow victory to become Florida’s Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner in 2018. They lost a Senate seat in 2018 when Rick Scott defeated Bill Nelson, they also narrowly lost against Ron DeSantis in 2018, and neither Hillary Clinton nor Joe Biden was able to defeat Trump in the presidential races of 2016 and 2020.
Although much of these electoral losses have been narrow (especially the 2018 races) the latest showing of Trump and the GOP in the 2020 election has risen significant alarms for Florida’s Democrats, with the former President actually improving by 23 points his performance in the majority Hispanic Democratic stronghold of Miami-Dade. If the trend continues, then it will be extremely hard for any Democrat to win in Florida.
Additionally, Val Demings will have the bad luck of making a bid for the Senate while being part of the party of the President during a midterm. Traditionally, the parties in power get clobbered during midterm elections: Obama lost his majority in the House and lost Senate seats in what Democrats viewed as a bloodbath in the 2010 midterms, and Trump lost 41 seats in the House in 2018.
If Biden follows the same pattern as his predecessors, then the Democratic party will be in grave danger of losing both of their tight majorities in Congress as Republicans would arguably be more energized to vote in the midterms than their Democrat counterparts. This national effect could be terribly damaging for Deming’s aspirations, especially when you take into account that Florida is already trending more Republican.
Nothing is set in stone in politics, however, and Val Demings bets that she will be able to outperform her fellow Democrats in the Sunshine State and exploit the lukewarm approval ratings that Rubio is showing in the polls. Demings has already shown some moderate streak on her political positions (especially regarding the police) and she would probably want to avoid being too closely associated with the most radical wings of her party.
Nevertheless, Demings will face a very tough challenge if she wants to unseat Rubio. She will have to create an image that is palatable for an increasingly Republican Florida, while also energizing the Democratic base and convince them to go to the polls in a midterm year.
If Democrats have any hopes of retaining the Senate, a Demings upset in Florida would be music to the ears of Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student from the University of South Florida. He worked as a congressional intern to Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) from January to May 2020. He also is the head of international analysis at Politiks // Daniel es un estudiante de Cs Políticas y Economía en la Universidad del Sur de la Florida. Trabajo como pasante legislativo para el Representate Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) desde enero hasta mayo del 2020. Daniel también es el jefe de análisis internacional de Politiks.