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Val Demings Uses ‘One of the Costliest Hurricanes in U.S. History’ to Raise Campaign Funds

Florida Dem adopts Obama admin's 'never let a crisis go to waste' mantra in race against Marco Rubio

National Guardsmen transport meals ready-to-eat to a community cut off by flooding in the wake of Hurricane Ian near the Peace River on October 4, 2022 in Arcadia, Florida. Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images
• October 6, 2022 2:15 pm

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Florida Democratic Senate nominee Val Demings is using what she calls "one of the costliest hurricanes in U.S. history" to solicit campaign contributions in her race against Republican Marco Rubio.

Demings on Wednesday released a campaign video that highlights Hurricane Ian's "staggering scale of wreckage." "Death toll in Florida soars after Hurricane Ian demolished entire communities," one chyron in the video reads. "Ian may be one of the costliest hurricanes in U.S. history," another says. But that "wreckage" did not stop Demings from attaching a fundraising link to the video, which directs viewers to an ActBlue page that asks for "a generous grassroots donation right now to help my people-powered movement flip Florida blue and expand Democrats' Senate majority."

One day later, on Thursday morning, Demings campaign manager Zack Carroll sent supporters emails and texts lamenting the "unimaginable destruction, loss, and grief" seen in Florida after Hurricane Ian. That destruction, Carroll wrote, "meant fundraising took a backseat. Our whole campaign was put on hold last week." The hurricane-induced pause "cost us big time," according to Carroll, and as a result, "Val Demings is way short on fundraising." "To catch up," the email continues, "we're calling on this grassroots movement to do something that's never been done: Raise $500,000 by midnight."

Demings is likely hoping the hurricane will give her an opportunity to turn her political fortunes around after three consecutive polls showing her trailing Rubio by 4, 7, and 6 points. But the move could backfire as Demings and other Florida Democrats use the storm to boost their campaign coffers. In addition to Demings, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist on Monday asked those who "suffered damage from Hurricane Ian" to "share [their] story" through his campaign site. Users who filled out the form were redirected to a fundraising page that asked victims to "take the next step and make a quick donation." Crist quietly changed the form's redirect link after Republican governor Ron DeSantis's campaign blasted Crist online.

Following publication of this article, Demings spokeswoman Anna Breedlove said Demings "has been showing up for her community and doing her job" but did not comment on the fundraising video and email specifically.

Demings has also used the hurricane to tout Democrats' so-called Inflation Reduction Act. During a Sept. 29 MSNBC interview, Demings said the legislation would help Florida's hurricane "resiliency" because "a large portion" of the bill "will go to addressing climate change." Just one day before the interview, National Hurricane Center acting director Jamie Rhome cautioned against linking Hurricane Ian to climate change after CNN host Don Lemon asked him to "tell us what this is and what effect climate change has on this phenomena."

"We can come back and talk about climate change at a later time. I want to focus on the here and now," Rhome responded. "I don't think you can link climate change to any one event. On the whole, on the cumulative, climate change may be making storms worse. But to link it to any one event, I would caution against that." Lemon quickly suggested that he may know better than the hurricane expert because he "grew up" in Florida.

Roughly a week after Hurricane Ian made landfall in southwest Florida, President Joe Biden visited the area Wednesday to tour the damage alongside DeSantis. Biden praised the Republican's storm response, saying, "I think he's done a good job."

Update 3:17 p.m.: This post has been updated with comment from a Demings spokeswoman.