- Rep. Val Demings is a Democrat who was a Trump impeachment manager.
- "She's fierce, strong, tough, she's no-nonsense, she tells it like it is," one campaign head said.
- These Trump- and DeSantis-like personality traits are resonating with voters, her campaign said.
Sen. Marco Rubio was one of the first Republicans who former President Donald Trump endorsed for reelection, and on Tuesday evening, the Florida lawmaker was campaigning alongside the state's governor, Ron DeSantis, in Hialeah near Miami.
One day after Rep. Val Demings handily secured the Democratic nomination, though, her campaign is drawing similarities between her, Trump, and DeSantis in a state that many believe has turned from purple to red.
Voters attracted to Trump or DeSantis — particularly white voters — are finding personality traits in Demings that they resonate with, especially her 27 years in law enforcement, which they say shows "decisive, strong leadership," her campaign said.
"She's fierce, strong, tough, she's no-nonsense, she tells it like it is," a member of her campaign said. Press were invited to the call but only on the condition that they not name the campaign staffer who spoke.
Demings' campaign is leaning heavily on her police background, including as Orlando's first female police chief, saying it offers a contrast to Rubio's image of a "weak, slick" politician who "looks like he was born in a three-piece suit." By contrast, they say, Demings is not a lifelong politician.
Trump and DeSantis are among Democrats' most-loathed politicians, and Demings doesn't share policy priorities with either man. She was even one of the House managers during Trump's first impeachment.
But Republicans have out-registered Democrats by 231,000 votes in Florida, meaning that if Demings wants to buck Democrats' long odds and win in November, she'll have to peel off voters even from people who'd cast a ballot for DeSantis over Rep. Charlie Crist, the Democratic nominee for governor.
The law enforcement background is one area Demings' team has been stressing since the start of her race. In campaign and press materials, her camp calls her "Chief Demings" rather than "Congresswoman Demings."
A member of her campaign said in Wednesday's call that the title helps voters get to know her better as someone who did public safety work that affects people's everyday lives.
Insider interviewed voters at the polls on Tuesday, finding hints that certain voters may favor Demings' candidacy even while backing DeSantis.
"I really don't like Rubio. I want him gone, so I'm going to vote for whoever is going to run against him," Karen Thomas, a Trump and DeSantis supporter from Miami Gardens who also had the unusual distinction of voting for Democrats down ballot, told Insider.
"I just think that he's just really not for the people," she said when asked to explain her stance. "He made a lot of promises that he didn't keep and I just think that he's ill informed about what people need. So I think he needs to go."
Demings is one of the top fundraisers in the Senate
Demings is out-raising Rubio at this point in the race, raising $48 million compared to his nearly $38 million. Big dollars are key in a state like Florida, which is one of the most expensive places in the US to run for office.
One poll by the University of North Florida's Public Opinion Research Lab shows Demings leading Rubio 48% to 44%. But that same poll also incorrectly said Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried was leading in her match-up against Crist for the Democratic nomination for governor. With nearly all the votes counted, Crist won the nomination by almost 60%.
A member of Demings' campaign said her electability could be boiled down to "three D's" — "Donors, Demings, and Dobbs."
The "Dobbs" component refers to Demings support for abortion rights, which Rubio opposes. Her team says her fundraising shows the energy behind her candidacy, and that voters support Demings once they get to know her background.
The Rubio campaign, for its part, has been highlighting the senator's accomplishments while in office as they make the case to voters for his reelection. They've broadcast his work on the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses at the start of the pandemic, and his successful efforts to double the child tax credit.
On Tuesday, during the Florida GOP event in Hialeah that also featured DeSantis, Rubio criticized Demings for voting "with Nancy Pelosi 100% of the time" and said the Democratic party picked her because they expected her to "fall in line" with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer if elected.
"She's done nothing. Not a single law passed," Rubio, 51, said.
The Demings team has counter-attacked Rubio for missing hearings on Capitol Hill and for voting against measures such as the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the climate, tax, and healthcare spending bill that President Joe Biden signed into law on August 16.
"We are making it clear this campaign is about one thing: a cop on the beat vs. a career politician who doesn't show up for work," Christian Slater, Demings' communications director, said in a statement to reporters.
Demings could be the first Black woman from Florida in the US Senate
If Demings, 65, is elected in November, she would be the first Black woman to represent Florida in the US Senate.
"That would be absolutely game changing," Miami Gardens Councilmember Robert Stephens III told Insider. Miami Gardens is a 15-minute drive from downtown Miami and is Florida's largest majority-Black city.
"It would give hope to my four-year-old niece that she can potentially make it to the Senate one day," Stephens said. "I believe also, wholeheartedly, we can shift that and make it happen and break some glass ceilings."
But at this point in the race, the extent of Demings' momentum among Black voters isn't clear. Most voters Insider interviewed at polls on election day in Miami Gardens said they didn't know much about Demings, but the results may have been different in other parts of the state.
Activists previously said they worried about Demings' police experience when Biden, then a candidate for president, was considering her to be his running mate.
It was a fact Rubio was quick to point out on Tuesday night, saying Biden instead opted for then-Sen. Kamala Harris of California because "the left wing of her party hated police officers."
It's not yet apparent how Black voters will respond to Demings touting her law-enforcement record in Florida, at a time when communities are still reeling from the murders of Black people, like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, at the hands of police.
Demings' staff said they were campaigning in Black communities throughout Florida, citing examples such as running ads in Creole. They created a "Sisters for Demings" coalition and, in early August, campaigned with Haitian-American leaders in North Miami.
But the campaign did not detail in Wednesday's call which policies Demings would support that are also important to the Black community, or from which Black leaders she'd be seeking an endorsement.
Monica, a voter in Miami Gardens who declined to share her last name, told Insider her main concerns are "poverty and police brutality."
"As a citizen, it's just your duty" to vote, she said. "I'm a new mom. And I feel like these elections these days are going to affect her in the future."
Charmaine Roundtree, a woman who lost her son to gun violence when he was 21 years told, told Insider that community safety is her No. 1 issue. Asked whether Demings' law enforcement background was attractive to her, she said, "absolutely."
"I'm quite sure she's familiar with what's going on within the community," she said. "She's aware, and I believe that she'll put her foot down and stand on business when it comes to preventing those things or at least trying to prevent them from happening."