Val Demings is on Biden’s VP shortlist. Could she help him win Florida?

U.S. Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) Photo by Shawn Thew - Pool/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — No major party presidential candidate has ever asked a Floridian to run alongside him.

But that could change if former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic Party’s presumptive presidential nominee, taps U.S. Rep. Val Demings as his running mate.

Biden confirmed this month that the two-term lawmaker is one of about a dozen women he is considering for the post. “She’s a very capable, competent person,” he told an Orlando television news reporter, adding that he’ll make the decision in the next six to eight weeks.

Though Demings is among the least prominent women on Biden’s list, her star is rising as she draws increasing attention in the national news media.

CNN included her on its latest “Top 10” list of likely vice presidential picks, after leaving her off an earlier iteration in March.

Politico trumpeted her candidacy on Sunday in a piece about increasing attention she’s drawing from Democratic lawmakers and political donors and advisers. 

And political commentators across the ideological spectrum are penning columns on her behalf. 

Chris Hand, a Florida lawyer and former aide to ex-Sen. Bob Graham (D), says Demings’ background in law enforcement gives her unique crisis management experience — the top quality Democratic voters say they want in a vice president, according to a recent poll conducted by CBS News.

And ex-Rep. Tom Coleman (R-Mo.) and conservative columnist Jeff Jacoby backed her recently in the Orlando Sentinel and the Boston Globe

“She’s being taken seriously,” said Keith Fitzgerald, a professor of political science at the New College of Florida. She’s not merely a name being bandied about by political observers, he said.

The daughter of a janitor and a maid, Demings, 63, rose out of poverty, started her career working with foster children as a social worker and moved into law enforcement. She served as Orlando’s first female chief of police before winning congressional office in 2016. 

Demings shot onto the national scene last fall, when she played a key role in the U.S. House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump as a member of both the House Judiciary and Intelligence panels. Her star rose higher in January when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) selected her as one of seven managers of the Senate impeachment trial.

If tapped, Demings would be the third woman in history to be named as a vice presidential nominee on a major party ticket, after Geraldine Ferraro (1984) and Sarah Palin (2008).

No Floridian has ever been asked to join a national ticket, according to Hand. The Sunshine State has not produced a Democratic or Republican presidential nominee either — though President Donald Trump changed his official residence to Florida last year.

Demings told the Phoenix this spring she is honored to be considered for the post — a point she continues to make in media interviews. “The fact that my name is being called as a serious potential vice presidential candidate is such an honor to me,” she said last week.

Stiff competition

Demings, of course, faces stiff competition for the Democratic ticket’s No. 2 spot.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is Democratic voters’ first choice for vice president, according to the CBS News poll. More than a third (36%) of respondents ranked her as their first choice, while 19% chose California Sen. Kamala Harris; 14% chose former Georgia state lawmaker Stacey Abrams; and 13% chose Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

No other candidate got more than 4% on that poll. 

Biden said last week he plans to interview Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a disabled veteran from Illinois. And others mentioned in the quadrennial “veepstakes” parlor game include Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer; Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Latina; former National Security Advisor Susan Rice; and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Biden is under some pressure to nominate a black woman, given the role the black community played in turning around his moribund campaign. 

Black women vote in higher numbers than black men and have a history of swinging election outcomes in favor of Democrats, said Sharon Wright Austin, a political science professor at the University of Florida. 

Black political leaders like House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) have urged Biden to pick a woman of color, and the Rev. Al Sharpton recently singled out Demings, Harris and Abrams. Hundreds of black women have also signed a letter urging Biden to choose a black woman, noting that the “road to the White House is powered by Black women.”

We’re calling for a “return on black women’s voting investment,” said Glynda Carr, president of Higher Heights of America, a political action committee that supports progressive black women.

Biden must weigh other political pressures in his choice, such as outreach to the progressives, Latinos and Midwesterners in battleground states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. 

One point in Demings’ favor: She hails from Florida, the biggest battleground state of them all, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

“I think her chances are really good,” Wright Austin said. “Florida is one of the states that he definitely needs to win.”

Vice presidential candidates typically don’t affect election outcomes in their home states. But this year could be different, given that Biden, 77, is seen as less likely to seek a second term. 

With only two terms in office, Demings, a moderate Democrat, doesn’t have a lot of political baggage, Wright Austin added. The same can’t be said of Harris, who served as California’s attorney general, she said. Demings, on the other hand, “hasn’t really done things to offend black voters,” she said.

In the negative column is her relative lack of name recognition, according to Wright Austin. Even if she could help swing Florida into the Democratic column, it’s unclear whether she has the star power to energize voters in other states.

If she isn’t picked, the national attention puts Demings in a good position to climb the political ladder, whether in the U.S. House or in higher office, Fitzgerald said. “This is all good for her career.”