Florida Rep. Val Demings makes it official, files to run against Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio

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TALLAHASSEE, Florida – A year after kicking off her campaign, Orlando Democrat Val Demings made it official Tuesday, filing candidacy papers to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who is seeking a third term in November.

Demings cast her opponent as often working against the interests of Floridians when she met with reporters, shortly before submitting her documents at the Florida Secretary of State’s office in Tallahassee.

“If there is legislation on the table that is good for Florida … I’m going to support that legislation; if it’s bad for Florida or bad for Floridians, I’m not going to support it,” said Demings, who has served in Congress since 2016. “Time and time again, we have seen (Rubio) play political games.”

She cited Rubio, who joined with fellow Florida Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Scott in voting against the Biden administration’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill last year. The package has brought billions of dollars of transportation, broadband and electric vehicle charging stations into the state.

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Demings, who supported the legislation in the U.S. House, said Rubio was willing to hurt his state to side with fellow Republicans.

But the deaths last week of 19 children and two teachers at a school in Uvalde, Texas, has further heightened the contrast between Rubio and Demings, a former Orlando police chief with an almost three-decade background in law enforcement.

Demings supports stricter gun control efforts drawing renewed attention in Congress. Rubio voted against expanded background checks on gun purchases following a 2015 mass shooting in California and 2016’s Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, which claimed 49 lives.

In the wake of last week’s slaughter at a Texas elementary school, Rubio clashed on Twitter with the Miami Heat basketball team and the NBA after both called for action on gun legislation. He accused them of “politicizing” the shooting.

Demings said she supports expanding background checks. But she also said that Congress should approve prohibiting anyone under age 21 from purchasing guns and enact “red flag” laws to keep weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill — measures that ruling legislative Republicans in Florida endorsed following the 2018 Parkland shooting.

“Those are things that we do have bipartisan support for. Do we have enough? Not yet. But surely we can come together, let’s lay our political differences down. We have 19 new reasons to do it, plus two, the teachers,” Demings said.

Democratic Congressperson Val Demings prepares to officially file to run for U.S. Senate on Tuesday, May 31, 2022 in Tallahassee, Fla. Demings will face Republican Senator Marco Rubio.
Democratic Congressperson Val Demings prepares to officially file to run for U.S. Senate on Tuesday, May 31, 2022 in Tallahassee, Fla. Demings will face Republican Senator Marco Rubio.

Rep. Val Demings is less well-known than Sen. Marco Rubio

Despite her long background in law enforcement, Demings has lost out to Rubio who has collected endorsements from 55 of Florida's 67 sheriffs and recently, the Florida Police Benevolent Association, which represents 30,000 members.

Demings, as she did with reporters Tuesday, is still introducing herself to many Florida voters, recounting her professional career and early years as the youngest of seven children in a rural Duval County family.

Rubio is clearly better known in Florida and nationwide, having run for president in 2016 before losing the Republican nomination to Donald Trump.

In responding to the Demings’ filing, a Rubio spokeswoman accused her of siding with a “socialist” agenda advanced by Biden and Democratic leaders.

“Val Demings is on the wrong side of every issue that affects the day-to-day lives of Floridians,” said Elizabeth Gregory of the Rubio campaign. “Demings went to Washington and immediately catered to the liberal elite instead of getting things done for Florida.”

Gregory described Biden’s Build Back Better social spending and climate plan as part of his socialist agenda, while saying Demings supports allowing illegal immigrants to vote and abortions to be obtained “until the moment of birth,” positions the Democrat does not support.

Demings announced her candidacy against Rubio last June and through the first quarter of this year, has matched the Republican in fund-raising, with both contenders raising about $30 million.

But this week opened the period that the state’s Division of Elections began accepting candidate qualifying documents.

Candidates have until June 17 to file their papers, and it wasn’t immediately clear when Rubio planned to formally submit his documents.

Rubio, like Republican candidates nationwide, appears intent on tying Demings to President Biden, whose approval rating is at a dismal 40.7% on Monday, according to poll tracker FiveThirtyEight.

John Kennedy is a reporter in the USA TODAY Network’s Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at jkennedy2@gannett.com, or on Twitter at @JKennedyReport

This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Val Demings files to run against Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio