First, she is a real law-and-order candidate. She is in the position to attack Rubio for failing to hold the former president accountable or even to support a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection, a slap in the face to the law enforcement personnel who died or were injured as a result of that day.
Second, Demings is not shy about taking on Rubio as a weakling. It is no accident that she includes in her announcement video a clip of former New Jersey governor Chris Christie pummeling him in the 2016 GOP primary. She can rightly argue that Rubio was unable to muster opposition to — or even criticism of — the former president, who coddled Russian President Vladimir Putin, bungled the pandemic response, instigated anti-Black and anti-immigrant animus, and twiddled his thumbs for months in 2020 as the economy sank into a deep recession. She might start by daring Rubio to concede that the “big lie” that the election was stolen was a groundless attack on democracy.
Third, Demings’s working-class background helps position her as the real economic populist. Using disclosures such as ProPublica’s bombshell tax story, she can remind voters Rubio is against raising taxes — or requiring any tax — on big corporations and superwealthy individuals. As Rubio shelters the wealthiest individuals and heightens inequality, he has voted against measures to help middle- and lower-income Americans. He voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act and against the American Rescue Plan (including $1,400 stimulus checks and the child tax credit). He opposes a host of popular White House initiatives, including subsidized child care, free community college, expanded broadband, enhanced senior care and support for green energy jobs. (With Florida’s capacity for solar power generation, failure to support renewable energy polices is mind-boggling.) Pointing to the economic and health toll in Florida, she can mount an effective campaign around the argument, “He went to Washington and forgot about you.”
Rubio bore the brunt of the anger, engaging in searing confrontations with parents of victims and survivors of last week’s shooting."Your comments this week and those of our president have been pathetically weak," said Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, was killed in the shooting.A stone-faced Rubio responded that the issue "can’t be solved with gun laws alone," which prompted boos from the audience.In another heated exchange, Rubio was asked by junior Cameron Kasky, a prominent face among those driving a nascent student movement to strengthen gun laws, whether he would "accept a single donation from the NRA" going forward.Rubio avoided the question, saying instead that the NRA “buys into my agenda, I don’t buy into theirs,” which again evoked jeers.
Rubio’s dogged defense of the NRA will be a problem, especially with female voters.
Finally, Demings can easily paint Rubio as a member of a party that is “100 percent” devoted to stopping the White House. To the extent voters loathe gridlock and hyper-partisanship, Rubio makes an inviting target. Since a GOP-controlled Senate would end any hope of action on an array of issues, Demings’s plea to elect someone “to get things done” may be compelling.
None of this is to say Demings will have an easy time of it. Florida has trended red (with a GOP governor, two senators and a 16-10 advantage in the House delegation). She remains an underdog. However, Demings has as good a chance as anyone to tie Rubio up in knots, making his fidelity to the former president and defense of the rich into real liabilities.