(NEW YORK) — Congresswoman Val Demings, who spent 27 years working in law enforcement in Orlando, Florida, said her background has been crucial to her views as a politician. Now running to be a U.S. senator against incumbent Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, her principles will once again be put to the test.
“I’ve seen people at their worst and I’ve seen people at their best,” she told ABC News Correspondent Linsey Davis during an interview. “And I have a really clear understanding of how people find themselves in the circumstances they’re in in the first place.”
Demings, a former social worker, spent nearly three decades in law enforcement — beginning as an officer and working her way up to police chief.
Despite her tenure in law enforcement, several unions representing officers in the state, including her own former department, have endorsed Rubio, her opponent in the race.
“I think it’s politics again,” she told ABC News. “What I found is my opponent and too many other people try to use fear, [saying] ‘you know, she’s not with you because she’s a Democrat.’”
“I am the police chief who brought the community and the department together to reduce violent crime by over 40%,” she added.
It has been more than a decade since Florida has had a Democratic senator, and more than two decades since the state had a Democratic governor.
If she is elected, Demings would be the only Black woman actively serving in the U.S. Senate, and only the third in American history.
She told ABC News she believes the biggest issue for Floridians right now is the rising cost of living, a matter near and dear to her heart.
“I sit here as the daughter of a maid and a janitor,” she said. “I’ve struggled in my own life. I remember graduating from Florida State, saddled with college debt.”
“We have an affordable housing crisis in Florida,” she said. “People are worried about keeping a roof over their head, keeping the lights on.”
In a dependably red state, Demings is running against difficult odds. ABC News partner FiveThirtyEight’s figures show Rubio ahead by 7 percentage points.
Demings, who has served as a well-respected Congresswoman for the past five years, decided to run for the so-called upper chamber because she believes “our nation is in trouble.”
“I just want to create better opportunities for others,” she said. “It’s worth the run for me. It is worth the risk for me.”
Her campaign has raised more than $64 million, making her one of the top fundraisers among Senate hopefuls.
No stranger to adversity, she remembered being told that, “I was the wrong color, the wrong gender,” she said, and that “I probably wouldn’t amount to much.”
When asked what her greatest weakness is, she said her grandchildren. Demings is a mother of three and grandmother of five.
Her greatest strength? Her fearlessness, she said.
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