Washington Gov. Jay Inslee made what he called a “tough decision” Wednesday night, giving up his long-shot — and possibly quixotic — bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Inslee had put a single issue, fighting climate change, at the center of his presidential campaign. But while climate change was polling in the top tier of issues for Democratic voters in recent surveys, Inslee was barely an asterisk. The Democratic National Committee was requiring candidates to register at least 2% in four designated polls to participate in the September debate. Inslee was below 1%.
“I know you agree with me that climate change must continue to be central to our national discussion and must be the top priority for our next president,” Inslee wrote in an email to supporters Wednesday night. “But I’ve concluded that my role in that effort will not be as a candidate to be the next president of the United States.”
But the end of his presidential bid looks like it will be the beginning of another: Inslee’s run for a third term as governor.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday night that two people close to Inslee said he will run for governor again in 2020 and will announce his plan in a Thursday morning email to supporters.
For the last week, the Inslee campaign had made much of its progress toward reaching the other requirement for participating in the September debate — recording donations from at least 130,000 individual contributors across the country.
On Monday evening the campaign announced it had met that threshold, proclaiming it a “victory for the campaign and the entire climate movement.”
But the campaign failed to address how it would meet the other, and arguably tougher requirement, going from less than 1% in the polls to 2% in four polls before the Aug. 28 deadline.
Instead, the campaign kept pointing back to the number of new donors it was getting in the wake of the July debate in which Inslee was able to highlight his plans for climate change and take a few shots at President Donald Trump. But that performance apparently failed to move him to the top of the list for Democrats looking at a field of two dozen potential nominees.
This week, it became clear he would not be invited to the September debate, Inslee told supporters: “As a result, I don’t believe we can compete for the attention and exposure needed to have a reasonable shot at the nomination.”
Inslee officially started his campaign in March, with a formal announcement at a solar panel installation business in Seattle. He called climate change an existential threat to the world, and said the next president must make it the nation’s number one priority.
He entered the race while the Legislature was in session crafting a two-year budget for state programs and a long list of other policies and programs. That decision drew criticism from Republicans in and out of the Legislature, who accused Inslee of campaigning on the public’s dime, with security also funded by taxpayers.
Washington State Patrol officers provided security for Inslee when he was out of the state campaigning. He brushed off criticism, noting that such security is required by state law.
In discussing other issues like the economy or foreign policy, he usually found a way to tie them back to the dangers of climate change. At one point, he criticized apparent Democratic front-runner Joe Biden for addressing climate change with what Inslee called “half measures.”
He tried to convince the Democratic National Committee to schedule a debate solely on climate change, but the committee declined. There are, however, two forums on climate change tentatively scheduled for September.
Inslee’s chances may have been hurt by the recent entrance into the race of billionaire Tom Steyer, who also focuses on climate change and has a well-developed political network to lean on. Despite entering the race this month, Steyer has the requisite number of donors and has registered at 2% or better in three of the four polls needed to qualify for the September debate.
A two-term governor, Inslee is up for re-election in 2020, and Washington law would not allow him to run for two different offices on the same election ballot. When he announced his bid for president, other elected officials began making plans to run for governor if Inslee didn’t seek re-election.
Now that Inslee seems poised to run for governor again, it will likely affect the political decisions of State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz and King County Executive Dow Constantine, who have all said they would likely run if Inslee did not. Other Democrats who have announced plans to run for the seats Ferguson and Franz would leave open in a run for governor will also feel the effects of Inslee’s decision to withdraw from the presidential race and seek the governorship again.
Inslee vowed in his Wednesday email to supporters “to ensure the fight to defeat climate change stays at the top of the national agenda.”