Marco Rubio avoided a Senate challenge from Ivanka Trump but he seems certain to face one from Val Demings, a Democratic Florida congresswoman who was the first Black female police chief of Orlando and who was considered as a potential vice-president to Joe Biden.
An unnamed senior adviser told Politico Demings, 64, was “98.6%” certain to run against Rubio in the midterm elections next year.
“If I had to point to one” reason why Demings had decided to run, the adviser was quoted as saying, “I think it’s the Covid bill and the way Republicans voted against it for no good reason.
“That really helped push her over the edge. She also had this huge fight with [Ohio Republican representative] Jim Jordan and it brought that into focus. This fight is in Washington and it’s the right fight for her to continue.”
Biden’s $1.9tn coronavirus rescue bill passed Congress in March without a single Republican vote. In April she made headlines by raising her voice when Jordan, a provocateur and hard-right Trump supporter, interrupted her during a House judiciary committee hearing on an anti-hate crimes bill.
“I have the floor, Mr Jordan,” Demings shouted. “What? Did I strike a nerve?
“Law enforcement officers deserve better than to be utilised as pawns, and you and your colleagues should be ashamed of yourselves.”
Demings was a member of Orlando police for 27 years and chief from 2007 to 2011. She was elected to Congress in 2016. Her husband, Jerry Demings, is a former sheriff and current mayor of Orlando County.
Police brutality and institutional racism has become a national flashpoint in light of the killings of numerous African American men.
Demings is a political moderate but Quentin James of the the Collective Pac, a Florida group working on Black voter registration, told Politico her police background and political views would not necessarily handicap her.
Young and progresive Floridians “aren’t really anti-police”, he said. “They’re against police brutality.”
Rubio is a two-term senator who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. He was brutally beaten in that race by Donald Trump, then swiftly aligned himself with his persecutor when he won the White House.
The prospect of a primary challenge from Ivanka Trump, the former president’s oldest daughter, was briefly the talk of Washington but she has said she will not run.
The Senate is split 50-50 and controlled by Democrats through Kamala Harris’s casting vote as vice-president. Demings’ all-but-confirmed decision to run sets up an intriguing contest in a state where the large Latino population has increasingly broken for Republicans. Rubio is the son of Cuban migrants.
Demings’ move also leaves the field open for challengers to Ron DeSantis, the Trump-supporting governor seen by some as a possible presidential candidate in 2024. In 2018 Democrats ran a progressive, Andrew Gillum, a former mayor of Tallahassee.
Discussing Demings’ likely Senate campaign, James told Politico: “We came very close with Gillum. But now we’re back with a really great candidate.”