ORLANDO, Fla — When U.S. Rep. Val Demings entered her Orlando watch party celebration less than an hour after polls closed across most of the state, she had already been declared winner of Tuesday's primary election.
She headed straight for the stage to give her victory speech. This was just moments after her husband, Jerry Demings, gave a victory speech of his own as newly-reelected mayor of Orange County.
"I stand before you tonight believing in the promise of America because I have seen promise of America," Demings said.
With 84 percent of the vote, Demings defeated three Democratic challengers in the primary election and will now face incumbent Marco Rubio for one of Florida’s two U.S. Senate seats, unofficial results show.
"We're not looking behind us. Tonight we come looking forward," Demings said. "It's about holding America to its promise — the promise that every person, regardless of who they are, the color of their skin, how much money they might have in the bank, their sexual orientation, sexual identity or religion will have an opportunity to succeed in a country that we say is the greatest country in the world."
The 65-year-old grew up in Jacksonville and built a career in public service. Demings started as a social worker before moving into law enforcement, where she served 27 years with the Orlando Police Department, eventually ascending to chief.
During her time with OPD, Demings commanded the Special Operations division and handled high-profile tasks like coordinating the response of the airport division on Sept. 11, 2001, according to her campaign website.
Demings later transitioned into politics, and in 2016, voters elected her to serve Florida’s 10th District in U.S. Congress. In 2020, she became the first woman to prosecute a presidential impeachment before the U.S. Senate.
Currently, she sits on the Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Homeland Security.
Demings now looks ahead to November's race, saying Tuesday night she will be in Tampa Wednesday to kick off a bus tour to connect with voters across the state.
"I'm traveling the state from the panhandle down to the Keys. I'm not just going to blue counties where it's comfortable. I've been in some red counties, too. Just as I did as police chief," she said. "It doesn't matter what our political party is. Partisan politics is destroying our nation and our state. We've got to come back and unite."
Demings has been vocal about supporting a woman’s right to an abortion, wanting to reduce gun violence and curb crime. She’s received support and endorsements from the Service Employees International Union as well as from Foreign Policy for America. She is currently running six key issues: the economy, healthcare, housing, public safety, the environment, national security.
Political experts predict a tight race between Demings and Rubio, saying neither can take a single vote for granted.
So far, Demings has out-fundraised Rubio with more than $47 million for her campaign.
"With the money she continues to raise, it really has benefitted her to have a primary before the general because the way the election financing laws work, she’ll be able to raise more money because of that," Lars Hafner, 10 Tampa Bay political analyst said.
Hafner says Demings' background in law enforcement will also give her an edge.
"For a while there, Democrats were being looked as the 'defund police.' Well, she automatically gets rid of that accusation simply because she was a police chief," Hafner said. "She’s worked the police life basically her whole life until she got into elected politics. And so she’s able to neutralize that."
However, Rubio has the benefit of being the incumbent, and experts say if he can continue to make inroads with the Hispanic vote, his odds of winning increase.
"Hispanics have been trending more Republican here in this state. It will be interesting because he has aligned himself with Trump, and so, it’ll just be how those Trump voters are motivated to turn out for Rubio and DeSantis..." Hafner said.
Either way, voters can expect to see Demings and Rubio battle for every single vote, every single day through November's election.
Where does Val Demings stand on the issues?
Jobs and the economy
Demings says she works to ensure everyone who works hard can find a job that “does more than just pay the bills.” During her time in Congress, she’s worked across the aisle with both Democrats and Republicans to deliver relief funding during the pandemic for Florida’s small businesses, according to her campaign site.
She also championed a bipartisan infrastructure bill that will create thousands of new jobs in Florida, her site reads.
Demings wants every American to have access to high-quality, affordable health care. She plans to fight to lower the cost of prescription drugs and stand up for the protection of people with pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes. She is a strong proponent of the COVID-19 vaccine, which she sees as the “single best tool we have to keep each other healthy, and to keep our economy and schools open,” according to her campaign site.
She’s also a supporter of women’s access to safe, legal abortion without restrictions.
Demings recognizes that housing in Florida has become too expensive and that many Floridians are struggling to pay their rent or mortgage. She’s worked to cut middle-class taxes and fought for increased funding for affordable housing in the federal budget, according to her campaign site.
In the U.S. Senate, she says she'll work to address the unaffordability of housing in Florida.
Florida’s environment is crucial to the state’s tourist-based economy, Demings believes, according to her site. She opposes offshore drilling off Florida coasts and has delivered funding to combat the toxic algae that impacts the state’s shores and waterways.
She also supports the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which will fund billions of dollars of climate change-resistant infrastructure in Florida.
Demings’ lengthy law enforcement background means that she is a strong advocate of law enforcement. During her time as Orlando Police Chief, she oversaw a 40% drop in violent crime. In Congress, she’s fought to increase funding for law enforcement officers so Florida cities have the resources to hire more officers. Demings has maintained she does not support defunding the police despite criticisms by Rubio.
The representative voted on June 2 to pass the Protecting Our Kids Act, which is a package of bills meant to save lives, close loopholes in the U.S.’ gun laws, prevent mass shootings and protect law enforcement officers and the public.
“I carried a gun for 27 years as a law enforcement officer,” Demings said in a news release. “I’m a gun owner today. Getting guns out of the hands of dangerous people will protect our children. Gun violence is not inevitable. The shootings that take the lives of our children every day are a policy choice, one that we can change.”
As a member of Congress’ Intelligence Committee and Homeland Security Committee, Demings says she believes national security is paramount — strong national security starts with the “smart use of American power overseas,” her campaign site reads.
She supports leading the U.S.’ allies to solve international challenges like terrorism before Americans at home are impacted.