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Val Demings Makes Sense for Charlie Crist's Running Mate

May 19, 2014 - 6:00pm

Charlie Crist could be taking a page from Rick Scotts playbook as a possible lieutenant governor candidate starts to emerge.

Val Demings stunned Florida political circles when she ended her campaign against Teresa Jacobs on Tuesday. Demings was well-positioned to give Jacobs a fight in the Orange County mayoral race but it certainly wouldnt have been a slam dunk. With Demings suddenly ending her campaign, speculation quickly grew that she would be Crists understudy on the Democratic gubernatorial ticket. Crists people are saying its too early for running-mate speculation, but they did not shoot down the trial balloons.

And why would they? For all the odd, even outlandish choices the Democrats' selection process has wrought going into mid-terms, Val Demings doesn't look like anybody's idea of a mistake.

Demings has some pretty impressive credentials. Starting off as a social worker in Jacksonville, she served more than 20 years as a cop in Orlando before serving four years as that citys police chief, a position now held by her husband. In 2012, she almost upset Dan Webster, giving that veteran Republican politician one of the biggest scares in his more than three decades on the Florida political stage.

Politically, Demings makes a lot of sense for Crist. She has one foot in Jacksonville where she grew up while the other is in Central Florida. During her bid against Webster, she became a favorite of Democrats across the state and nation and her narrow loss did not hurt her there. Earlier this month, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the DNC featured Demings on a call attacking Scott on abortion and urging him to veto pro-life bills. As an African-American, she should be able to boost black turnout for Crist while reassuring white moderates with her police experience. Plenty of Democrats and liberals are wary of Crist with his history of changing parties and positions. Demings should help reassure them.

Scott did something similar in 2010 when he brought on Jennifer Carroll as his running mate. Carroll backed Bill McCollum over Scott in the primaries and was part of the House leadership in Tallahassee. Bringing Carroll on board helped ensure Republicans were behind Scott despite their lack of familiarity with him.

Carrolls record in the Navy and leading the state VA gave voters a good impression of her, much like Demings police background has helped her. Nor do the similiarties end there, as both women are black and offered suprisingly competitive challenges to established congressmen -- though admittedly Demings did better against Webster than Carroll ever did against Corrine Brown. Of course, Carrolls time under Scott ended badly and even now the former lieutenant governor occasionally surfaces and throws barbs at her old boss.

If Crist insists he isn't going to debate Nan Rich before the primary -- if he continues to plow right past her as if she doesn't exist to get to Rick Scott in the general election, then certainly he now is in a position to think about who he wants for his running mate. The Democratic bench is thin and there simply arent many options out there. If he chooses her, Demings should help Crist with the party base, reach out to moderates and aid in nailing down Orlando. She makes sense as Crists running mate, especially as she ends what was a serious challenge to Jacobs.

Tallahassee-based political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.

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