The U.S. Senate race in Florida may be shaping up as one of the most closely watched contests in the country. But a Democratic Primary leading into the race seems a forgettable formality.
The contest in many senses felt over as soon as U.S. Rep. Val Demings announced she would challenge Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.
A former Orlando Police Chief, a short list running mate contender for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign and one of the House managers for the first impeachment of Donald Trump, her entry inspired immediate excitement.
U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy quickly decided not to run herself, apparently determining it would be difficult if not impossible to defeat Demings for the nomination. Other challengers eventually reached the same conclusion, including former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, former congressional candidate Allen Ellison or Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell, who all chose to run for U.S. House seats instead.
But Demings wasn’t just handed the nomination either. On Aug. 23, she faces three other Democrats: Ricardo de la Fuente, Brian Rush and William Sanchez.
Sanchez, a lawyer and son of Cuban immigrants, has proven the most successful fundraiser among Democrats not named “Val.” He has raised more than $260,000 for the state run through Aug. 3. That’s nothing compared to the nearly $48 million raised by Demings, but he’s been able to pour six figures into the race to reach Democratic voters ahead of the Primary vote. Before running, he co-founded nonprofit groups such as City Kids Inc. and the Philippine Charities Foundation — and now wants to make a difference in Washington.
“I want to be part of the new movement that is bringing in progressive change,” Sanchez said in a video that launched his campaign last year.
Brian Rush, a former state Representative, rose to Majority Whip in the Florida House. While in state government, he championed public education, and served as Vice Chair of the House K-12 Education Committee. His family was long active in the St. Petersburg community.
His campaign has gone openly negative against Demings, calling her “out of touch” and criticizing a voting record he said contributed to inflation. “We need a change in Congress and a new direction to fight rising prices,” Rush said in an online digital video. But having raised just over $46,000 for the statewide campaign up until Aug. 3, he has limited means to put his messaging in front of voters.
Meanwhile, de la Fuente has reported no fundraising over the court of the race. He may be able to borrow a little name recognition from his father, Rocky de la Fuente, who has repeatedly run for Senate in Florida and other states, and even made a bid for President in 2016 and 2020. A long list of campaigns never resulted in a similar list of wins, but at least the family name has appeared in front of voters plenty of times.
Like his father, Ricky de la Fuente has run for federal office in multiple states before including Florida, California and Texas, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
“While Florida will continue to face challenges in extreme weather events, affordable health care for all, and meaningful well-paying job creation, I am prepared to defy both the odds and the political structures to fight together for the future of every Floridian,” he wrote on his website.
But the contest remains Demings’ to lose. She’s massively outraised all Democratic competitors and has already built up a national network of supporters and a profile to match.
Additionally, polls show her to be increasingly competitive against Rubio. Two polls published this month, one from Change Research and another from Clarity Campaign Labs, showed her even with Rubio among likely voters, and a University of North Florida even showed her 4 percentage points up.