U.S. Rep. Val Demings launched her Hispanic coalition in April of 2022. Credit: Screenshot/YouTube
More than three months ago, U.S. Rep. Val Demings unveiled a crucial initiative to address issues surrounding Latino voters, a key voting bloc that could impact the outcome of the U.S. Senate race in Florida and help her unseat a GOP incumbent who is Latino.
But will Demings’ messaging resonate with Hispanic voters at the polls in the November election?
She’s a Black Democrat from Central Florida and a Congresswoman who was on a list of potential vice president candidates for Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential election. She’s well-known as the first female police chief in Orlando, and she comes from humble beginnings — her mother worked as a maid and her father was a janitor.
But Republican opponent Marco Rubio has a slight lead in recent polls and an advantage in Florida’s largest county in the state — Miami-Dade — where more Hispanics are registered as Republicans than Democrats.
His parents, from Cuba, “earned their way to the middle class by working humble jobs, his father as a bartender in hotels and his mother as a maid, cashier, and stock clerk,” according to Rubio’s bio. He is seeking a third term in the U.S. Senate and is a former Florida House Speaker.
Meanwhile, Demings has been traversing the state in hopes of attracting Hispanic voters, through what’s called Todos Con Demings, a Hispanic outreach coalition launched in April by her campaign.
In English, “todos con” can mean “all with,” “everyone with,” or other similar translations.
‘She is telling her American Dream story to Hispanic voters’
The coalition’s press secretary is José Díaz, who recently told the Florida Phoenix that Todos Con Demings is using social media “to reach Hispanic voters where they are,” and digital advertising in Spanish since June.
“Demings has been a constant presence in Hispanic communities,” Díaz said, including hosting an event that highlighted prescription drug costs at a Puerto Rican health clinic in Miami and meeting with residents in Little Havana.
She’s also hosted other campaign events across the state targeting Hispanic communities and she’s been interviewed by Hispanic media outlets.
Demings also opened a campaign office in Tampa and interviewed with a Spanish media outlet called Telemundo Noticias “two days after her primary victory,” Díaz added.
“Chief Demings is going to every community and speaking with every voter in her fight to defeat Marco Rubio,” Díaz said in an email to the Florida Phoenix. “From Miami to Jacksonville, she is telling her American Dream story to Hispanic voters throughout the state.”
Teresa Castillo is a Hispanic woman who serves as a member of the Osceola County School Board. She told the Phoenix in a text message that Demings has been making her presence known in Latinx communities across the state.
“Chief Demings has been a constant presence in Hispanic communities … she also has spoken to the Venezuelan community in Central Florida,” Castillo said.
“As a Latinx woman, Val Demings is an example of what hard work and dedication to the community looks like. That is why I endorse her over Marco Rubio. She believes in accessible healthcare, and the preservation of Medicare and social security. These are important to the Hispanic community.”
While Demings uses “Val” as she visits many parts of Florida, her first name is Valdez and her middle name is Venita. Those names sound Hispanic, Díaz said, but she is not of Hispanic descent.
The latest AARP Florida poll in the U.S. Senate race shows that “Senator Marco Rubio has a narrow 49% – 47% advantage over Congresswoman Val Demings in the U.S. Senate election. Rubio’s lead is 5-points among Florida’s vital 50+ electorate.”
Still, “Rubio leads despite having a significantly worse image than Demings. The Senator’s image sits at 44% favorable – 52% unfavorable, while the Congresswoman’s image is 42% – 28%.”
GOP advantage in Miami-Dade — Rubio’s territory
Hispanic voters are largely in South Florida, according to data from the Florida Division of Elections. Data show that Miami-Dade County, in South Florida, has the most registered Hispanic voters, at 898,195; followed by Broward County (293,098) and Orange County, in Central Florida, at 220,603. Those figures are from Aug. 4, prior to the primary election.
That said, across all races and ethnic groups, Miami-Dade has more registered Democrats compared to Republicans, according to data from the Miami-Dade supervisor of elections.
But when it comes solely to Hispanic registered voters in Miami-Dade, voter registration data show more Hispanics registered with the Republican Party of Florida compared to the Florida Democratic Party. There are 325,853 Hispanics registered as Republicans in that large county, compared to 251,781 Hispanic voters who are Democrats.
That would likely be beneficial for Sen. Rubio in capturing the Hispanic vote, according to Elizabeth Gregory, Rubio’s campaign communications director.
“Hispanic Floridians are voting red because the Republicans like Senator Rubio are speaking to the problems facing them and their families, like skyrocketing inflation, out of control crime, and a crisis at the border letting drugs flow into our communities,” Gregory said in an email to the Phoenix.
“Many Hispanic voters know firsthand the dangers of socialism only to find Washington Democrats embracing a socialist agenda. Silly woke phrases like ‘Latinx’ only further prove their ignorance,” Gregory added.
Many Hispanics favor abortion rights — which could help Dems at the polls
Meanwhile, a 2022 survey shows that most Latinos in the United States support legal abortions – an issue backed by many Democrats that could help Rep. Demings as well as other Democrats in various races gain Latino votes.
Overall, 60 percent of Hispanic adults said that “abortion should be legal in all or most cases,” according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center from March 7-13. And 40 percent of Hispanic adults surveyed are in favor of dismantling abortion rights. Keep in mind the survey was done before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion case in June.
Demings has garnered endorsements from some Democratic lawmakers in Florida, such as state Sen. Janet Cruz, a Hispanic Democrat representing part of Hillsborough County. Cruz told the Phoenix that she supports Demings’ run for the Senate because she will protect important issues, such as abortion and fighting for Florida families.
“I proudly endorse Val Demings for U.S. Senate!” Cruz said in an email. “When elected, Val will help Democrats retain a majority in the Senate and protect women’s reproductive rights and marriage equality,” Cruz said in an email.
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