Does Val Demings have a chance in the race against Marco Rubio for the U.S. Senate? (includes video story)

Florida Representative Val Demings, a Democrat from Orlando, formally announced on Wednesday that she will run for the U.S. Senate against Republican Senator Marco Rubio in the 2022 midterm elections.

Demings, 64, is considered a fiery opponent and a strong potential challenger for Rubio, who has served 10 years in the upper chamber and unsuccessfully ran for President in 2016. The congresswoman, who became a national figure as one of the house prosecutors during former President Donald Trump’s impeachment hearings, was also considered a possible running mate for President Joe Biden. Demings has been climbing the political ladder for years and continues to expand her national profile. 

Born in Jacksonville, Demings is the youngest of seven children born to parents Elousie and James. From a young age, she and her siblings learned the meaning of hard work from their parents, who worked as a maid and janitor, according to multiple sources.

Demings became the first in her family to graduate from college when she received her bachelor’s degree in criminology from Florida State University in 1979.

She began her career in her hometown as a social worker. In the early ‘80s, Demings moved to Orlando to become a police officer in an era when there were fewer women in law enforcement than there are today. She graduated from the police academy in Orlando in 1983 as class president and received the board of trustees’ award for overall excellence.

Demings served in different positions with the Orlando police including as the commander of Special Operations. She made history in 2007 when she became Orlando’s first female chief of police. One of her highest priorities as chief was to reduce the violent crime rate. By the time she left office, it had fallen by 40%. 

She also developed Operation Free Palms, a program that targeted the city’s most dangerous housing complex, and launched a mentoring program for at-risk students. 

After completing 27 years in law enforcement, she switched gears to politics. In 2016, Demings defeated her opponent, Republican Thuy Lowe, for a U.S. House seat.

Over the last few years and through the pandemic, she has established a strong presence in the Democratic party.

Demings has supported legislation such as the Protecting Our Communities and Rights Act of 2019 which aims to close loopholes in gun laws and help keep the public safe from mass shootings. 

In May 2021, she helped pass the legislation for the Pulse nightclub memorial, which honors the names and faces of the 49 victims of the 2016 mass shooting. This memorial, planned by the nonprofit onePulse Foundation, is located in the Orlando Regional Medical Center. 

During former President Donald Trump’s impeachment hearings, Demings was a persistent questioner who demanded that Trump be held accountable for his actions. She owned the Senate floor with her speeches and held the attention of both her peers and America. 

“If there is a candidate on the Democratic side that can fire up the Democratic base and young people, while still being palatable to Independents and perhaps even some Republicans, I think Val Demings is the answer,” said Florida pollster and political analyst Fernand Amandi.

Beating Rubio remains a monumental challenge for the Democrats. He graduated from the University of Florida as the first in his family, earning a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1993. Then he earned a J.D. at the University of Miami in 1996. 

In 2000, he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives and after two years won a second term. In 2006, he became the speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

In 2010, he defeated Republican and former Florida governor Charlie Crist in the general election and became among the youngest people ever to hold a Senate seat.

Regardless of the candidates, there is a typical decline in voters during midterm elections. 

Demings has a lot to prove, especially to younger people who are interested in changes to gun reform, police reform, racial equality and LGTBQ+ rights. 

“As a young Democratic voter, I do feel that Demmings has a chance to win because of her political and local background and how she has continued to show her strength and determination in the face of adversity,” said China Davis, 23, an Orlando native who works for the YMCA. 

Earlier this year, Demings also supported prosecution of Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer who used excessive force to restrain George Floyd last year and was convicted of murder. This tweet from Demmings shows her stance on this case. 

“I think that the race between Demings and Rubio will be close,” said Stephanie Rodriquez, 21, an independent voter and South Florida resident. “Rubio has a lot of support and had the support of the former president. Demings will need to make sure that she shows the young voters like myself what she can do to help us and our communities.”

Demings has continued to show her support for all citizens and if her campaign will look anything like the legislation that she has supported, young voters will be all ears.

In fact, Demings and Rubio have opposing views on many of the same issues which is why the people of Florida are interested to see what the outcome will be.

“It’s not going to be a cakewalk for Demings, but I think we’ve seen that Rubio is not beloved by Florida voters,” said Amandi. “He does not really have any signature accomplishments that have benefitted the state and his wanting to be ‘all things to all people’ has created a significant degree of distrust among independents and Republicans.”

A poll done by Florida Politics shows Rubio’s suport is particularly strong among whites, Hispanics, men and older voters, while South Florida and African Americans are solid demographics for any Democrat such as Demings.

Brandon James, a 24-year-old Republican graduate student at Florida State University, said he would be incredibly disappointed if Rubio loses to Demings. 

“If there was a liberal that somehow managed to win Florida, I think that would be detrimental to our tourism,” he said. “People have also been moving to Florida so if we had a Democratic Senator, they would ruin all of that.”

Although Demings is clearly a formidable opponent to Rubio, she will have to define her differences with Rubio and how they would benefit the state. 

“Florida is a big state with a lot of different pockets of voters and the best thing Demings can do is to get around as much of the state as often and as quickly as possible and start cultivating relationships where she’s never been on a ballot before, which is pretty much the entirety of the state outside of Orange County,” said Amandi.

Cristina Feliciano is a broadcast media major at Florida International University. She is passionate about delivering the news and creating professional digital media content. She is experienced in field reporting on camera and editing news packages, but also loves to write.

Shaun’ta Ransom is a senior at Florida International University. She is a South Florida native that enjoys meeting and talking to new people. She is especially interested in art, marketing and social media.