Washington Governor Jay Inslee Is Running For President

Washington Governor Jay Inslee is running for the Democratic nomination for President on a platform primarily focused on climate change. Whether that helps distinguish him from a growing field of candidates remains to be seen.

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee is the latest entrant into the race for the Democratic nomination for President, and he appears to be contemplating a campaign built on a focus on climate change:

SEATTLE — Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington and former member of Congress who has made climate change and the environment his signature issues, jumped into the crowded field of 2020 Democratic contenders for president on Friday.

Mr. Inslee, 68, has led the state during a powerful economic expansion since taking office as governor in 2013, especially in the Seattle area. Amazon and other tech companies have hired tens of thousands of workers, and export-driven manufacturers like Boeing have boomed.

But he has had mixed success in getting some of his ideas put into practice, especially those on renewable, low-carbon energy. He failed twice with voters, and once in the Legislature, to enact the nation’s first carbon tax, aimed at reducing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. Many residents, elected officials and business leaders balked, concerned that energy costs would rise.

In a video announcing his campaign Friday, Mr. Inslee made climate change central to his message as a candidate.

“Our country’s next mission must be to rise up to the most urgent challenge of our time — defeating climate change,” he said.

“This crisis isn’t just a chart or graph anymore. The impacts are being felt everywhere.”

In speeches around the nation leading up to his announcement, Mr. Inslee has framed his candidacy around themes that are deeply familiar to residents of his home state. Biting attacks on President Trump and Republicans in Congress — popular in the strongly Democratic counties in and around Seattle — are combined with sometimes lofty, sometimes dire, rhetoric that the nation and the world are at a pivot point, where delay on energy and climate will be disastrous for future generations.

“This is the 11th hour, but it is Washington’s hour to shine. It’s a time of great peril, but also of great promise,” Governor Inslee said in his State of the State speech earlier this year. “I don’t know of any other issue that touches the heart of things so many of us care about: our jobs, our health, our safety and our children’s future,” he added, referring to climate change.

Mr. Inslee has said in recent speeches that he would push the nation to global leadership in research and development of lower-carbon energy policies, likening the effort to the mass mobilizations and deployment of resources during World War II. But his base of support in his home state is also narrow.

In his election to the governor’s office in 2012, he carried only eight of the state’s 39 counties, all of them along the heavily populated liberal western slope of the Cascade Range. He trailed his Republican challenger in more rural and conservative agricultural communities. In his second campaign four years later, he carried nine counties.

Many Washington residents, even those who admire Mr. Inslee and have voted for him, are prone to sometimes mock him for his sunny, boyish enthusiasm in talking about passions like ocean acidification and carbon.

“He’s a true believer,” said Travis N. Ridout, a professor of government and public policy at Washington State University and longtime observer of Mr. Inslee. “He’s identified with climate change. Other than that, it’s hard to — at least in my mind — come up with signature policy focuses. The positive of that is that it’s hard to think of the big scandals he’s been involved in either. He’s fairly low drama. He’s not a firebrand.”

Here’s the video that Inslee posted to social media to kick off his campaign:

Inslee first entered politics in 1988 when he was elected to the Washington House of Representatives, where he served until being elected to Congress in the wake of Bill Clinton’s election that year. While in Congress, Inslee represented both the 1st Congressional District and the 4th Congressional District from his state. Inslee remained in Congress for a decade, but it doesn’t appear that he made much of a mark, which isn’t surprising considering that he appears to have spent his time sitting on the Agriculture and Science, Space, and Technology Committees. His major accomplishments while in Congress appear to include matters such as helping to secure package related to the use and protection of the Yakima River, opening up Japanese markets, and matters related to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, a major government research site located near Richland, Washington. In 2012, Inslee resigned from Congress to run for Governor, a race he narrowly won over his Republican opponent. In 2016, Inslee was re-elected by a stronger margin over his Republican opponent. In choosing to run for President, Inslee is at least for the moment taking himself out of the running for a third term, which he would be eligible for given that Washington does not have term limits.

At least initially, Inslee’s biggest problem is going to be a lack of name recognition even among politically active Democrats. This is especially true that he’s joining a race that already includes better-known candidates such as Kirsten GillibrandJulian CastroTulsi GabbardKamala HarrisElizabeth WarrenAmy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, and Bernie Sanders as well as less known candidates such as South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Maryland Congressman John Delaney. Additionally, Inslee is entering a race where he could find himself joined by other candidates currently mulling a run for the White House including former Vice-President Joe BidenOhio Senator Sherrod Brown, former Attorney General Eric Holder, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton, California Congressman Eric Swalwell, New York City Mayor Bill Delblasio, and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

If he’s going to rise anywhere out of the 1% or so he’s likely to show in initial polling, Inslee will need to find a way to stand out from what is quickly becoming a growing crowd. With his announcement, there are now eleven what I would call prominent or semi-prominent Democrats in the race for the nomination. Given the recent comments from the likes of Vice-President Biden, Beto O’Rourke, and Michael Bloomberg, that field is likely to be up to fourteen in a few short weeks, and probably even bigger than that as the spring goes on. Only one of these people is going to be the nominee, and all but a handful of them are going to end up being contenders for the nomination once voting actually starts and we get deeper and deeper into the primaries. Inslee apparently believes that the climate change issue will be what separates him from the other candidates, which is why he focused on it in his opening video. Perhaps he’ll be proven right, but it’s worth noting that the need to address climate change is basically a consensus issue in the Democratic Party and there doesn’t seem to be much that distinguishes Inslee from the rest of the field in that regard. Perhaps he’ll be proven right, but as things stand right now I suspect he’s going to be one of the also-rans who ends up dropping out rather early.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Climate Change, Environment, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    Climate change is an issue that skews young. I don’t see a 68 year-old white guy with no national presence being the one to excite young voters.

  2. Kathy says:

    If this trend keeps up “running fro president” will come to lose all meaning. You know: “Well, sure. Anyone can run for president. But opening a jar of pickles, that takes real talent.”

  3. Kylopod says:


    If this trend keeps up “running fro president” will come to lose all meaning. You know: “Well, sure. Anyone can run for president. But opening a jar of pickles, that takes real talent.”

    Maybe, but at least Inslee has a perfectly traditional resume for a presidential contender. It’s a far cry from people like Howard Schultz or Michael Avenatti or Donald Trump.

  4. Gustopher says:

    As a Washington State resident, I can attest to the fact than Inslee has occupied the governor’s office.

  5. Gustopher says:

    From the quoted NY Times article:

    But his base of support in his home state is also narrow.

    In his election to the governor’s office in 2012, he carried only eight of the state’s 39 counties, all of them along the heavily populated liberal western slope of the Cascade Range. He trailed his Republican challenger in more rural and conservative agricultural communities. In his second campaign four years later, he carried nine counties.

    Presenting this as a problem with Inslee shows a complete lack of understanding of Washington State. Every election for governor since 2004 has followed the same pattern — 2004 was decided by 129 votes on the third recount, or so. Presidential elections are not as close, despite being in the same year and the exact same electorate that is mailing in their ballots.

  6. Todd says:

    It’s one thing for Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden to think they might have a shot at being president in 2020.

    But a grey haired white guy who virtually nobody has heard of?

    Sorry dude, wrong time in history … at least as a Democrat.

  7. Catfisher says:

    According to the Cato Institute’s 2018 fiscal policy report, Inslee is ranked dead last among all governors for fiscal responsibility.

  8. Kathy says:


    Or Andrew Yang. I wouldn’t argue against that. But after more than five people have announced, I kind of lose interest in more announcements.

    It was a HUGE deal when someone got an Atari video game console back in the day. By the time Nintendo rolled out the classic NES, it was just another game system.

  9. Kylopod says:

    @Gustopher: I’m generally skeptical of arguments about how well a statewide candidate did compared to presidential candidates–in either direction. One of the claimed advantages for Klobuchar was that she performed well in some of the rural districts that voted for Trump. But I’m not sure that’s really predictive of much. In Hillary’s last election to the Senate, for instance, she did great in rural Upstate NY. Likewise, in 2004, while Bush lost Massachusetts by a wide margin, he did substantially better than Kerry’s Republican opponent in 2002.

  10. Gustopher says:

    @Kylopod: if a trend is holding for 16 years, across a variety of candidates, with the exact same voters as the presidential election, and are all reasonably competitive, I think you can start looking to see what is going on with rural, suburban and urban voters.

    I also don’t think this is a scenario that pops up that much, as there are too many attempts to compare off year elections with presidential performance, or whoever was sacrificed to run against Kerry in the Senate in 2002 (I assume he was probably plausible, but his only chance of victory would be Kerry being done in by scandal).

    I *think* what we would find if we dug into the Washington State results for the past two decades is a state Democratic Party that understands rural areas a bit better, and a state Republican Party that is less extreme and doesn’t repulse as many people in urban areas — and the candidates actually travel the entire state and compete for votes even where they traditionally won’t get the majority.

    Someone better at statistics and political science than I could probably use Washington State as a rough model of what a Presidential race that was determined by popular vote would look like, and whether some of the assumptions are born out even at a smaller scale.

    (The difference in scale likely presents its own set of problems in getting anything like a controlled experiment. Inslee may have a better understanding of apple, onion, hops and cherry agriculture by virtue of being closer to them than a presidential candidate would have.)

  11. Gustopher says:


    In Hillary’s last election to the Senate, for instance, she did great in rural Upstate NY.

    I recall that the Republicans barely contested that election. I don’t remember the details, but I think that it was an incredibly weak candidate.

    Hillary Clinton’s first senate run was pretty amazing though — she won over all sorts of people, all across the state to pull that off, against a very strong contender, while dealing with the carpetbagger issue, and the baggage that being a Clinton brought. She was open and honest and pleasant, and changed a lot of minds.

    I wish she ran every campaign that way. I think she hated every minute of it, and so just didn’t when she was ahead.

  12. Sleeping Dog says:

    The only thing interesting about Inslee is that he’s a governor in a field of legislators, which should be an advantage, but basing your platform on climate change is a non-starter because everyone else running has a similar position and it is not an issue that will motivate voters.

  13. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Catfisher: Not that I’m surprised you understand, but since the Supremes of Washington State have started demanding that the Legislature be fiscally responsible even if the governor is not (for example, in school funding) Inslee’s fiscal issues are less glaring than they might be.

  14. Tyrell says:

    It is all well and good to talk up climate change. It is another not to give details and specifics on what they plan to do. Just how will a carbon tax affect me and other middle class working people? How hard is it going to hit our pocketbooks? We have spent thousands to make our homes energy efficient: everything from heat pump upgrades to insulated windows. We drive cars that get better mileage than smaller cars of a decade ago.
    The last thing this country needs is some treaty that puts controls and taxes on the American people.
    Sorry, but I am not going to drive a motor scooter or a rickshaw to work.
    “Abolish air travel” (Alexandrio O. Cortez)

  15. Tony W says:

    The problem with centering your campaign around climate change is, as Doug notes above, Democrats already agree that action is necessary – so there’s a lot of preaching to the choir.

    I live in Washington and I can tell you he’s a non-flashy, low-key dude, as noted above we barely know he’s in Olympia doing the people’s business. One round of insults and a good nickname from Trump and Inslee is a goner. His predecessor, Christine Gregoire, while a lightning rod herself, was much more media savvy than him.

    If he wants to succeed based on climate change, he had better come up with a plan that is *very* moderate – from the perspective of an Ohio voter, not a left-coast voter.

    His ardent supporters on Twitter are arguing with me that he was the first to sue to oppose Trump’s travel ban. That’s his big leadership claim-to-fame.