As the Florida Democratic Party continues to search for candidates to challenge GOP U.S. Senate incumbent Rick Scott next year in his bid for re-election, Brevard County School Board member Jennifer Jenkins’ name has popped up as an emerging possibility.
In an interview with the Phoenix on Friday, the 36-year-old said she will support any Democrat who’s willing to oppose Scott next year but may step up if the opportunity strikes.
“I’m actually considering it,” she said. “You know, everyone agrees that Florida needs a new generation of candidates. The Rick Scotts of the world have failed us and, for me personally, one of my driving forces is the fact that Rick Scott has made it really clear that he sees eye-to-eye with [Ron] DeSantis on dismantling our public schools. And a lot of people — myself included — will do everything in our power to make sure he’s not reelected again.”
Jenkins said she’s having conversations with her family about a candidacy, but her top goal is seeing the Florida Democratic Party — considered at one of its lowest points ever — begin winning again following a disastrous 2022 election cycle.
“I don’t believe there should be an intense battle for the Primary for this seat in order for Democrats to be successful,” she said. “I will support anyone who is willing to take up the fight to ensure that Rick Scott is going to lose his election.”
Several media outlets reported this week that Florida Democratic party officials have been hoping to persuade celebrities like former NBA star Grant Hill to enter the race against Scott, whose largest margin of victory in any of his three previous statewide races for Governor and Senator was just 1.2% (versus Alex Sink in 2010).
In 2018, Scott defeated Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson by less than two-tenths of 1 percent, despite outspending Nelson by more than $50 million in what was considered at the time the most expensive Senate race in American history, according to Open Secrets.
That background would appear to leave Scott vulnerable in 2024, particularly after President Joe Biden began bashing him for his proposal to sunset all federal legislation — including Social Security and Medicare — every five years and requiring Congress to approve those programs again.
But the political terrain has changed tremendously over the past four years in Florida, with more individuals moving to the Sunshine State and aligning with the Republican Party. In the 2022 race for U.S. Senate in Florida, Marco Rubio defeated Democrat Val Demings by more than 16 points, even though Demings outraised the state’s junior senator by $20 million.
Whether Jenkins emerges as the Democratic nominee, her story certainly could energize the party.
She was working as licensed speech language pathologist in Brevard County in 2020 when, she said, she began paying attention to the workings of her school board. She felt there wasn’t a representative who “reflected a passion for public education and a respect and dignity for our educators.”
She ran against incumbent board member Tina Descovich and defeated her by more than nine percentage points in August 2020, a result labeled “shocking” by one local political scientist in the very red county of Brevard.
Although Descovich would move past her defeat to help create the conservative parental rights advocacy group Moms for Liberty, which has become influential in Florida and across the country, Jennings was becoming enmeshed in the culture wars that erupted in school districts as the coronavirus gripped the nation.
As an advocate for wearing masks on school campuses, Jenkins said, she and her family endured intense threats and harassment, an experience she described before hundreds of fellow Democrats who gathered for an FDP rally last weekend in Tampa.
“When I was sworn into office, I never expected that I would have the personal battle that I had,” she said in introducing herself in Ybor City’s Centennial Park. “Protests in front of my home. The vandalism on my property. Three foot ‘F-U’ letters burned into my lawn. Be followed by private investigators. Slanderous websites.’”
Speaking on Friday, she said that although that experience was “terrible,” it strengthened her convictions and ability to advocate and she’s proud of the example she’s set for her six-year-old daughter.
“It was awful,” she says. “But I know that I couldn’t live with myself and look at my daughter and tell her that I let the bad guys win.”
She’s also feuded with Brevard County House Republican Randy Fine going back to 2021, claiming then that the GOP lawmaker “cyberstalked” her on social media. A Brevard County judge ultimately dismissed her complaint.
However, the Florida Commission on Ethics ruled last month that it had found probable cause that Fine violated ethics rules last year when he allegedly threatened to veto funding to the city of West Melbourne over a dispute with Jenkins, according to Florida Today. That paper reported that Fine called the commission a “kangaroo court” and said its findings were politically motivated.
In February, Jenkins landed on Gov. Ron DeSantis list of 14 school board members targeted for defeat in the 2024 elections. Jenkins insists she was “honored” to make the list. She calls the Governor’s positions on public education “dangerous” and adds that she’s had a front-row seat to the “birthing of the culture wars and chaos and disruptions being brought to school boards right here in Brevard County.”
So, while the search for a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate (or candidates) continues, Jenkins plans to continue having conversations with Democratic party officials but emphasizes that when it comes to running against Scott, “I’m ready to support anyone who’s willing to take that on.”
Republished with permission from The Florida Phoenix.