Val Demings Could Break the Old Boys Club

U.S. Rep. Val Demings during a recent campaign swing to South Florida. (Gregory Reed)

By Isaac Morgan Florida Phoenix Via – (Source – It’s been about four decades since a Florida woman – Republican Paula Hawkins of the Orlando area – was elected to the U.S. Senate for one term. What has followed is a lineup of men.

Now, in 2022, U.S. Rep. Val Demings, a Democrat in Central Florida, is pushing to shatter the glass ceiling of politics by kicking out Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and capturing a female seat for Florida in the U.S. Senate.

Demings already made history as Orlando’s first female police chief in 2007. Whether she can hit a major milestone for a second Florida woman in the U.S. Senate after some 40 years is the question.

She would need to win the August primary election and then defeat incumbent Rubio in November, and he’s garnered law enforcement support from groups across the state, though Demings is considered a law-and-order candidate given her longtime law enforcement career.

However, a recent poll from progressive groups show that the race between Demings and Rubio is close. According to a report from Florida Politics, poll results from Progress Florida and Florida Watch show Rubio and Demings “each with 45% support” from those surveyed.

And she’s managed to outraise Rubio in campaign fundraising from January 2021 to June 30, according to the latest data from the Federal Election Commission.

“Everyone is watching that race. [Demings has] garnered a lot of attention and one area that she’s certainly not lacking in is fundraising,” said Susan MacManus, professor emerita of politics at the University of South Florida.

She said that more women have been running for office but that “it was a man’s world for a long time,” meaning mostly men had been elected to offices around the country.

Women & Black representation

Currently, 24 women serve in the U.S. Senate – 16 Democrats and eight Republicans, according to the U.S. Senate’s website. That’s only a quarter of the 100 Senate members.

Kelly Dittmar, director of research at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics, told the Florida Phoenix in a phone conversation that it’s important for more women to be elected to Congress.

“The body itself should reflect and the membership of that body should reflect the people it serves,” she said. “So, we know that the Senate, as with other political bodies, meant to serve a population that is over 50% women. And at least that many women should be included in these debates and in the dialogue that is happening in the Senate every day.”

As to race, there are no Black women in the U.S. Senate. Vice President Kamala Harris was the last one to serve before resigning to take on her current role. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois was in the U.S. Senate in the 1990s.

Speaking to that lack, it’s “pretty glaring when you think about representation in one of the most powerful political bodies in the country,” Dittmar said.

There are other ethnic groups represented in the U.S. Senate, such as Asian, Pacific Islander and Latina, according to data from the Eagleton Institute.

In Demings’ case, if she wins, she would be the second female representing Florida in the U.S. Senate and she’d be the first Black female Floridian U.S. senator in the chamber.

A need for trailblazers

Overall, there have been 58 women elected to the U.S. Senate, including the late Hawkins of Florida. A white Republican, she served in the Senate from 1981-1987.

“She was one of the first statewide elected women,” said MacManus. “She had been active in Republican politics for a long while. And she was a one-term senator, and she was defeated by Bob Graham (a Democrat).

“Once you have trailblazers, that makes it easier for those coming behind. The pipeline for women running for office is gushing at the moment. But it’s taken a lot of time for women to aspire to run for statewide office.”

“Every decade, more and more young women are going to college and graduating,” she added. “And they are the likely pool for candidacies.”

Meanwhile, Lucy Sedgwick, president of Ruth’s List Florida, told the Phoenix in an email that “women are underrepresented in politics – period.”

She said her organization is focused on electing more women to state and local offices.

“The main reason women are so underrepresented is they don’t run in the first place,” said Sedgwick. “Women are more collaborative and willing to work across the aisle. They’re faster problem solvers and more committed to advancing policies that benefit our communities.

“We have to build the bench of qualified women running for office, and that starts by increasing women office holders at the most local levels of government. That’s always been our focus – recruiting, training and electing diverse, qualified, candidates up and down the ballot.”

Lack of perspective

Still, Demings must woo voters across the state to become Florida’s next U.S. senator and make history as the second woman to hold that office.

“She’s doing extremely well at fundraising and because of it, she has been able to run bio ads. She had the money to run those way ahead of the election so that people can get to know her,” MacManus said. “But for her to win, she’s got to make sure she’s well known.”

Demings has been traversing the state as part of a statewide 100-day tour, according to her campaign.

State Rep. Dotie Joseph, (D) Florida (

Miami-Dade State Rep. Dotie Joseph is an attorney and member of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus running for reelection. She told the Phoenix that more Black women also need to be represented in Congress.

“With the departure of Vice President Kamala Harris from the U.S. Senate,” said Joseph, “that legislative body is devoid of the invaluable perspective of and representation by a Black woman, which is a disservice to policymaking for the entire nation.

“Electing Congressman Val Demings to the Senate would rectify that flagrant lack of representation, while also providing much-needed partisan balance for the Florida federal delegation. I do not believe that the two current senators, who regularly vote against policies that a majority of Floridians favor, adequately represent of our state.”

Florida Phoenix is a news and opinion outlet focused on government and political news coverage within the state of Florida. It is part of a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.

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