TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Former state prosecutor Aramis Ayala is joining a quickly-growing Democratic primary to replace Orlando Rep. Val Demings.
Ayala has officially decided to run for the Central Florida congressional seat, becoming the second current or former elected Democrat to run for the seat after Demings signaled that she is going to challenge U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio next year. State Sen. Randolph Bracy announced on Tuesday that he was also seeking the seat.
Congressional District 10 is a safe Democratic seat, meaning that whomever wins the primary will likely wind up in Washington. President Joe Biden in 2020 won the district by almost 62 percent over Donald Trump, who won the state overall.
Ayala, who earned statewide attention for her battle against then-Gov. Rick Scott over the death penalty, was initially looking at running for the Senate, but she changed directions after it became clear that Demings planned to run against Rubio.
“I believe this is where I can best serve,” Ayala told POLITICO.
Ayala, a Black Democrat, served one term as the state attorney for Orange and Osceola counties. She won the seat in 2016 by knocking off an incumbent with the help of billionaire George Soros, who included Ayala on a slate of progressive prosecutors he backed across the country during that election cycle.
Ayala called Demings a “fearless leader” and “unapologetic champion for women and people of color,” adding that she would be also be a fighter for residents who care about affordable housing, living wages and environmental issues.
“All Floridians need a voice in Washington,” Ayala said. “I have done progressive work. I came in as a prosecutor committed to challenging the status quo.”
Ayala first gained statewide attention when she angered Scott and other Republicans over her decision to stop pursuing the death penalty in criminal cases. She fought the governor all the way to the state Supreme Court after he reassigned death penalty cases from her office to another prosecutor. The high court eventually sided with Scott. She opted against seeking a second term as state attorney in 2020.
Demings, a former Orlando police chief, was first elected to Congress in 2016. She gained national prominence as a manager during Trump’s first impeachment and was on the short list of potential running mates for Biden.
The 10th congressional district is located in Orange County. Florida’s GOP-controlled Legislature will draw new congressional maps in early 2022, but making large-scale changes to a seat that a sizable Black minority — and who make up a majority of Democratic voters in the district — could spark a federal legal challenge.