- Rubio is up for reelection in November and has received endorsements from three police groups.
- He’s likely to face off against Democratic Rep. Val Demings.
- She worked in law enforcement for 27 years and was Orlando’s first female police chief.
MIAMI — Pro-police messaging is set to dominate the US Senate race in Florida as incumbent Republican Sen. Marco Rubio prepares to face off against a Democratic opponent who spent almost three decades in law enforcement.
On Saturday, Rubio secured the endorsement of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, a union that represents more than 30,000 members. Steadman Stahl, South Florida PBA president, called Rubio a “true champion for law and order” during a Saturday evening press conference at Trump National Doral.
The endorsement is key for Rubio. In November, he’s likely to face off against Democratic Rep. Val Demings, who was Orlando’s first female chief of police and is married to a former sheriff. Two other law enforcement groups have endorsed Rubio: the Florida Police Chiefs Association and 55 of Florida’s sheriffs.
The pro-police message has been effective for Republicans in past races. As Democrats pushed police reforms and violence soared during the pandemic, Republicans sought to cast all Democrats as being weak on crime and supportive of progressives’ unpopular rallying cry to “defund the police.” Rubio slammed the stance in remarks he made Saturday.
“It was in vogue among some to sort of go out and criticize and attack law enforcement, and talk about the need to dramatically transform it,” said Rubio, who is Cuban-American and made his remarks first in English and then in Spanish.
But debate over the issue is likely to play out differently in Florida than in other states. Demings’s campaign has embraced and even played up her police experience during the race, calling her “Chief Demings” in press releases and other campaign materials instead of “Congresswoman Demings.”
Demings oversaw a 40% drop in violent crime when she was chief of police, said Christian Slater, spokesman for the Demings campaign, when asked to respond to the Rubio endorsements.
“Unlike lifelong politician Marco Rubio, she has an actual record of fighting crime and making communities safer,” he said. “As Florida’s next senator, Chief Demings will always have law enforcement’s back as she works to keep the public safe and ensure law enforcement officers have the resources they need to fight crime.”
Demings, who has been in the US House since 2017, was one of the managers in then-President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial in the Senate. While in Congress, she has introduced legislation to increase federal grants to police departments.
She also voted in favor of the Thin Blue Line Act, a bill that would invoke the death penalty on people who murder law enforcement officers. A bipartisan bill she introduced that would have increased penalties for people who harm police passed the House but wasn’t considered in the Senate.
Rubio’s most recent legislation on law enforcement was a bipartisan bill to help police officers with housing affordability. On Saturday, Rubio said he feared “we’re not doing enough” to support police officers, saying it was leading to “a spirit of criminality” and that it would be more difficult for people to enter the profession.
“This is a very difficult job,” he said. “We need to honor and respect the people who do it, who are willing to do it.”
The pro-police stance in the US Senate in Florida race comes in the shadow of a nationwide reckoning on systemic racism and police brutality.
Demings, who is Black, has talked openly about racism in America and in 2020 wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post in which she called for police accountability after Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd.
She voted in favor of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would have required police departments that use federal funding to have body cameras and would have restricted the use of chokeholds by federal officers. The bill passed the House but was defeated in the Senate under full GOP opposition.
Still, the topic has been a political balancing act for Demings. President Joe Biden initially considered her to be on the shortlist for his running mate in the 2020 elections, though several news stories raised questions about whether her background in law enforcement would be considered a vulnerability among Black voters. Biden ultimately settled on then-Sen. Kamala Harris of California.
The extent of support she’ll receive from Black voters in Florida will begin to play out in the August 23 primary. At a campaign reelection kick-off in Miami Gardens for state Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat, on Thursday, several attendees told Insider that they planned to support Demings and had been closely watching her candidacy. Miami Gardens is the largest Black district in Florida.
“She’ll be the first Black US senator to represent Florida,” predicted Jones.
Demings faces several Democratic opponents in the primary but she’s expected to be the nominee because she’s massively out-fundraising them all. The latest polling on the race, from the University of North Florida, shows Rubio is favored to win reelection.