Val Demings:  ‘Marco Rubio is afraid of a tough fight. I am not.’

By Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post Columnist, June 10, 2021

Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), one of the House managers during the first impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, made it official on Wednesday. She’s going after the Senate seat now held by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Her slick announcement video declares that she’ll “Never tire.” Demings, who for a time was under consideration to be Joe Biden’s running mate during the presidential campaign, slammed Rubio as someone who “prefers the same old tired ways of doing business.” And she didn’t let up when I talked to her Wednesday morning.

“We’re living in some very tough times. There are a lot of critical issues and I just believe we need bold, courageous leaders to deal with those issues,” Demings told me during a phone interview a few hours after launching her Senate bid. “Too many times, Marco Rubio did not show up. But when he did show up, he did not have enough courage to fight for Florida.”

Case in point: Rubio’s vote against the American Rescue Plan. Demings said, “When he had an opportunity to help Floridians during one of the toughest times in their lives, he chose to vote against stimulus checks. He chose to vote against covid relief for our schools and our small businesses.” She also expressed concern about Florida’s recently enacted law that increases voter suppression, its ban on transgender girls and women from competing in school sports, and a new “anti-rioting” law. “We can do better. That is not who we are as Floridians. It is not who we are as Americans.”

The youngest of seven children, Demings was born and raised in Florida. Her father was a janitor. Her mother was a maid. Demings, the first in her family to go to college, told me that her mother taught her that “God blesses you to be a blessing to others.” Public service is how Demings has chosen to be a blessing to others. She spent 27 years with the Orlando Police Department, rising in 2007 to become the first woman to lead the department.

Demings was first elected to the U.S. House in 2016 from a solidly Democratic district. She won reelection in 2020 by 27 percentage points. But running statewide against Rubio isn’t going to be easy. He won reelection in 2016 by more than seven points in a state Trump won by 3.4 percentage points in 2020. That was more than two points better than Trump’s 2016 win in the state. Demings isn’t fazed.

“Marco Rubio, he is afraid of a tough fight. I am not,” insists Demings. “I grew up poor, Black and female in the South. The first time I was called the n-word I was 4 years old. I know it’s not going to be easy, but I do believe it is doable.”

“We’re getting ready to build the most unique, diverse coalition from Tallahassee to Miami, from the Panhandle down to the Keys,” Demings said. “We are leaving no voter, no group of voters behind. We’re going to talk to everybody about the things that they care about.”

When I asked her what the agenda is for her Senate run, Demings didn’t go into much depth. Instead, she took me back to Jan. 6 when she was in the House gallery and said she was “expecting . . . to die that day.” But she did say that protection of our democracy would be the bedrock of her priorities, which include health care, education, national security and cybersecurity, and the cost of prescription drugs.

Another area of concern for Demings’s candidacy is the looming Republican accusation of being a “socialist,” which proved problematic for Florida Democrats in 2020. When I asked how she would respond, Demings replied, “I am not a socialist,” and then talked about her career in law enforcement before concluding, “I understand why Rubio and the GOP would try to label me. Desperate people do desperate things.”

Here’s one thing you might not know about Demings: She rides a motorcycle. A 2004 Harley-Davidson Road King Classic, to be exact. Its sierra red color is an homage to her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta. Will she ride her Harley to campaign events? “You better know it,” she replied. Demings said riding is a prime way to connect with people. “You don’t have to be in the same party. If you’re a rider, there’s already that main connection,” said Demings, who rides with her husband, Jerry Demings, the mayor of Orange County, Fla. “We’ve ridden with people we know. We’ve ridden with a lot of people we didn’t know. And what a great way, maybe, to bring America together. Just jump on your Harley and go for it.”

Demings is going for it, and Rubio better watch out.

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