Politics

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee enters 2020 presidential race, to focus on climate change

Key Points
  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says he will emphasize climate change during his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
  • "We're the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we're the last that can do something about it," the 67-year-old governor says in a video announcing his candidacy.
  • "Our country's next mission must be to rise up to the most urgent challenge of our time: defeating climate change."
Jay Inslee, governor of Washington, speaks during the Emerging Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Ben Nelms | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Friday he's running for president, saying he will emphasize attempts to combat climate change during his bid for the Democratic nomination.

"I'm Jay Inslee and I'm running for president because I'm the only candidate who will make defeating climate change our nation's Number 1 priority," the 68-year-old governor said in a video announcing his candidacy. "We're the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we're the last that can do something about it. Our country's next mission must be to rise up to the most urgent challenge of our time: defeating climate change."

A book Inslee wrote on the topic some 10 years ago, "Apollo's Fire," argued for a clean energy program on the scale of President John F. Kennedy's moon shot. He's still pushing that message.

In the video released Friday, Inslee said combating climate change would create job growth.

"We have an opportunity to transform our economy, run on 100 percent clean energy," he said. "That will bring millions of jobs to every community across America, and create a more just future for everyone."

He has some reason to be optimistic that it will resonate. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll from December found that 66 percent of Americans now say action is warranted on climate change, up from 51 percent two decades ago.

But it's far from clear that voters will make the environment a priority on Election Day. Inslee lost a 2018 ballot initiative in his home state that would have imposed the nation's first carbon fee on large polluters.

Climate change is not his only calling card for primary voters. As chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, he helped his party flip seven states blue in the 2018 midterms. Inslee has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump — Washington state brought suit against Trump's initial travel ban, winning an injunction. He was also critical of President George W. Bush's Iraq war when he served in Congress.

Inslee's political action committee has raised $112,500, according to a November filing with the Federal Election Committee. That could help finance forays to early primary states like Iowa, where he visited twice in 2018, and New Hampshire, The Seattle Times reported.

Still, he's not considered a top-tier candidate. He joins a crowded field. Sen. Elizabeth Warren was the first to throw her hat into the ring, on Dec. 31, and Sens. Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Corey Booker are also running. Former Vice President Joe Biden and Texas Rep. Beto O'Roarke are among those who could soon join the fray.

"You're coming from Washington state, and that's a big liability," Ron Dotzauer, a Seattle-based political strategist recently told McClatchyDC.com. "You can't get farther away from the epicenter of politics, except if you're in Alaska or Hawaii."

Republicans were quick to pounce on the announcement. "Jay Inslee's chances of becoming president are exactly what he's polling at: zero. His campaign will only force Democrats into embracing more extreme policies, like a carbon tax, which would kill jobs, raise energy prices, and disproportionately hurt working-class Americans," Republican National Committee Communications Director Michael Ahrens said in an email on Friday.

Even Inslee is hedging his bets. If things don't go his way, the governor told The Seattle Times, he could drop out by May, in time to run for a third term as Washington's top politician. "I see no reason to take that off as an option," he said.

— CNBC's Jessica Bursztynsky and Marilyn Haigh contributed to this report.

Correction: This story was revised to correct that Inslee is 68 years old.