Florida Democratic congresswoman Val Demings has officially announced plans to challenge Republican Senator Marco Rubio in 2022, a race that experts say will require intense outreach to the state's Latino community.
While the announcement had been expected for weeks, Demings - a former Orlando police chief - made the official announcement in a three-minute long video on posted online.
"When you grow up in the South poor, Black and female, you have to have faith in progress and opportunity," she said. "My father was a janitor and my mother was a maid. She said, â€˜never tired of doing food. Never tire'."
"I've never tired of standing up for what I believe is right," she added. "Now, I'm running for the United States Senate because of two simple words: never tire."
Rubio, for his part, quickly responded to the announcement with a series of videos - including one in Spanish on Wednesday morning - painting Deming as from "the extreme far-left".
"She has not accomplished absolutely anything. She doesn't have a single legislative achievement," he said. "By comparison, I've been classified as the most efficient Republican in the Senate, and the number two as far as leadership."
In addition to accusing Demings of working to keep schools closed and the economy shut down during the Covid-19 pandemic, Rubio said that Demings voted to prevent gang members from being deported and voted 94% of the time with "Marxist" members of congress, referring to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes and other members of the â€˜Squad'.
To win the Senate race next year, Demings - who was in 2020 briefly named among the list of people being considered to be Joe Biden's Vice President - will have to make significant strides with Florida's Latino population, which makes up approximately 17% of the state's voters.
Speaking to LPO, a Florida Democratic Party insider - who asked not to be named - said that Demings will have to "work very, very hard" to win over the state's Latinos.
"The Democrats haven't done great in the last several elections here," the source said. "You'll probably see her making moves early to try get out there and be seen as reaching out to the Latino community. It's vital."
The source's thoughts were echoed recently by Democratic strategist Jose Parra, who told Newsweek that Demings will have to avoid the same mistakes make by former Senator Bill Nelson, who lost his Senate seat to Rick Scott in 2018.
Following the election, Scott was widely criticized as having begun his outreach in the Latino community too late.
"Bill Nelson in 2018 is the post child of ignoring the Latino vote in Florida, and that should be a warning for everybody to remember," he said. "She's going to need to triple and quadruple down on the Hispanic vote since she will probably do well with Black voters...she needs to do that if she wants to avoid the Biden numbers of 2020."
In the November general election, Biden saw support fall in the traditionally Democratic Miami-Dade Country, where he won by just 7 points. In contrast, Hillary Clinton won the country by 29.6 points in the previous election.
The LPO source said that Rubio was also likely to make an effort to paint Demings as "far left as possible" - a tactic that is likely to be aimed at conservative, right-leaning Latinos in South Florida, some whom are already concerned about President Biden's politics and the rising influence of the Progressive, far-left wing of the Democrats.
This tactic, according to experts, has proven successful among Latino voters on a national scale.
An April report from the Democratically-aligned Equis Labs research firm, for example, said that a fear of â€˜Socialism' and leftist politics led to higher-than-expected levels of support for former president Donald Trump.
In an interview with LPO, Dr. Manuel Pastor, a political analyst and the director of the Equity Research Institute at the University of Southern California, said that the rising power of the Progressive wing of the Democrats allows "conservatives to be able to say that the Democratic Party is shifting left and runs the risk of socialism."
"That's very scary to Cuban, Venezuelan and Nicaraguan voters, or others who have fled Socialist regimes and carry a great deal of dear," he added.
Rubio, for his part, has recently expressed his belief that Hispanic voters - both in Florida and elsewhere in the US - will become "permanent" GOP voters.
On Monday, Rubio told right-wing media outlet Breitbart that many Florida Latinos have swung to the right after fleeing socialism and embracing "common sense."
"Those are two things the left has abandoned. You hear lots of people talk about whether its socialism. Socialism is a part of it," he said. "In their mind, if I were to step in the shoes of someone who maybe voted for Obama in 2012, then voted for Donald Trump in 2020, they would say to you, 'Look, I came from a socialist country. I fled it. Why the hell would we do that here?' It makes no sense to them."
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