By BRENDAN FARRINGTON, Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is seeking a third term and facing Democratic Rep. Val Demings as the GOP tries to take back control of the narrowly divided Senate.
Demings is a third-term congresswoman who has prominently featured her background as a police officer and Orlando’s first female police chief. If she wins, she would be Florida’s first Black senator.
Rubio, 51, had relatively easy paths to his first two Senate victories, defeating Rep. Patrick Murphy in 2016 by nearly 8 percentage points and winning a three-way race in 2010 when then-Gov. Charlie Crist ran as an independent and peeled away votes from Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek.
Rubio is hoping incumbency gives him an edge in a state where in four years Republicans not only reversed a decadeslong Democratic advantage in registered voters, but now hold a nearly 300,000 voter lead. Republicans also tend to outperform Democrats during midterm elections in Florida.
Rubio ran for president in 2016, winning the Minnesota primary before dropping out of the race eventually won by Trump. Rubio initially said he wouldn’t seek a second term, which led to a scramble of GOP candidates looking to fill his seat. But Rubio changed his mind just before qualifying the candidate ended and easily won a second term.
As vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and a member of the Committee on Foreign relations, Rubio has pushed for taking a harder line against China and returning manufacturing of critical supplies like prescription drugs to the United States.
Demings entered the race after raising her national profile by playing a prominent role in former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment and by being on President Joe Biden’s list of potential running mates.
During his first Senate campaign, Rubio repeatedly reminded voters of his working class background, saying it was an “only in America” idea that the son of Cuban immigrants could become a US senator. His father was a bartender and his mother was a hotel maid.
Demings has a similar “only in America” story. She grew up in Jacksonville, where segregation was still an issue, as the daughter of a janitor and maid. She was the first in her family to graduate from college and began her career in social work before becoming a police officer.
Rubio has used the GOP playbook against Demings, saying she was in perfect lockstep with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and partnered with Biden and Pelosi in driving up inflation. He also accused Demings of being a radical who supported socialist policies and criticized her for a budget proposal supported by Democrats.
“If you want to talk about radical plans, Congresswoman Demings supported a radical plan,” Rubio said in their only debate. “She actually voted for the crazy people’s budget, a socialist budget.”
Early in the race, he also accused her of supporting defunding the police, an attack that had little credibility given her law enforcement background.
During the debate, Demings said Rubio had repeatedly lied about her record by falsely accusing her of supporting abortion up until the moment of birth — the Democrat said she supports abortion until viability, the limit that had been in place prior to the US Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“The senator has obviously resorted to lying, cheating and trying to steal,” she said. “How gullible do you think Florida voters are, senator? How gullible?”
Demings has largely focused her attacks on Rubio on his poor attendance record and his support of a national abortion ban. Rubio has said he supports a ban on abortion without exceptions, but has voted for abortion restrictions with exceptions like rape and incest because he doesn’t think a bill would pass without those exceptions.
Alysha Shakir, 50 and a Broward County employee, said he was concerned about moves to eliminate access to abortion and that therefore he would be voting for Demings. “You know the Senate is very important right now. We need all that we can get up in Washington right now for the Senate,” Shakir said while voting early in Fort Lauderdale.
In Orlando, a real estate agent and mother with her toddler strapped to her chest, who gave her name as Ashley S., said Tuesday she was voting only for Republicans, because they supported keeping schools open during the pandemic. “I just want to keep Florida free,” she said.
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