(CNN) — Democratic Rep. Val Demings on Wednesday officially announced she’s running for US Senate in 2022 as the party looks to unseat incumbent GOP Sen. Marco Rubio in a pivotal race.
Her candidacy provides Democrats with a high-profile candidate as they hope to challenge Rubio, who’s serving in his second term and is a widely known, well-funded opponent. Democrats hold their primary next August.
If she prevails in the primary, Demings would face a tough general election fight against Rubio, given that Florida Republicans have dominated statewide races for more than a decade. The last time a Democrat won a Senate seat in Florida was in 2012.
Demings has long been planning this run and CNN reported in May that she was expected to announce a bid. She had spent the last few months mulling over a statewide race, ultimately deciding on a bid for the Senate over running for governor in 2022, a source close to the congresswoman previously told CNN.
After Demings made her intentions to run known, fellow Florida Democrat Rep. Stephanie Murphy, who had been considering mounting a bid for Rubio’s seat, announced late last month she would forgo a Senate run and instead will seek reelection to her House seat. Murphy’s decision likely helps Democrats avoid a potentially bruising primary battle for Senate, as the party hopes to keep control of an evenly-divided US Senate and make further congressional gains.
CNN has ranked Rubio’s seat as of the 10 most likely to flip in 2022. Though former President Donald Trump only carried Florida by 3 points in the 2020 election, Republicans still feel good about their odds to hold onto the Senate seat.
On Wednesday, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Rick Scott, Florida’s other GOP senator, slammed Demings’ announcement as “a (Nancy) Pelosi Puppet just looking for a promotion” who’s voted with the House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s “radical Left agenda.”
After a failed bid for president and initially saying he wouldn’t seek a second term, Rubio reversed his stance and won reelection to his seat in 2016, beating his Democratic opponent by nearly 8 percentage points.
Rubio has an endorsement for a third term from Trump, who remains a popular figure in Florida and resides in the state.
Demings’ decision to run for Senate frees up the Democratic primary in the gubernatorial race in Florida, which has attracted the interest of several other high-profile Democrats.
But her Senate candidacy also creates a vacancy in the House at a time when Democrats have a slim majority. Florida is also expecting a major redistricting shuffle as the Sunshine State is gaining a congressional seat following the 2020 Census.
In announcing her bid, Demings highlighted her career as the first female police chief of the Orlando Police Department. She had joined the police department in 1983 and became the police chief in 2007.
Born in Jacksonville in 1957, Demings was the youngest of seven to a father who worked as a janitor and a mother who was a housekeeper — all descendants of slaves.
“When you grow up in the South poor, Black and female, you have to have faith in progress and opportunity. My father was a janitor, and my mother was a maid — she said: ‘Never tire of doing good, never tire,” Demings said in her announcement. “I’ve never tired of representing Florida, not for one single moment. I’ve never tired of standing up for what I believe is right. Now I’m running for the United States Senate because of two simple words: never tire.”
Demings, first elected to Congress in 2016, rose to prominence as one of the Democratic House impeachment managers charged with making the case against former President Donald Trump during his first impeachment trial. She was also among the contenders to be Joe Biden’s running mate in 2020.
Other Democratic candidates running for Senate include Miami Commissioner Ken Russell, high school teacher and progressive candidate Joshua Weil, former Democratic House candidate Allen Ellison and former Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson.
This story has been updated with additional details.
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