By Matt Pearce
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee dropped his 2020 bid for the White House on Wednesday after his climate-focused campaign failed to gain traction in a crowded field of Democratic candidates, marking the third major departure in recent weeks.
Inslee, 68, made the announcement during Rachel Maddow's MSNBC show, two days after reaching the 130, 000 unique donors necessary to qualify for the next Democratic debate in September, but after having regularly failed to meet the other requirement of securing 2 % support in four polls. He also couldn't secure a place in a Democratic debate focused on climate change where he might have pressed an advantage over other candidates with less aggressive or less detailed plans.
"It's become clear that I'm not going to be carrying the ball, I'm not going to be the president, so I'm withdrawing tonight from the race, " Inslee said on the show.
In an email to supporters afterward, Inslee added that he was "more hopeful than ever that we can achieve a critical mass to solve this crisis " and vowed to "continue to lead, to demand bold action, and to do everything in my power to ensure the fight to defeat climate change stays at the top of the national agenda."
Inslee, a second-term governor who previously served in the House of Representatives, was one of the most experienced candidates in a Democratic field of more than 20. He had an assortment of progressive policy achievements under his belt.
But he made fighting climate change the central issue of his campaign, citing scientists' warnings that humanity is running out of time to limit the calamity expected to unfold over the next century from rising greenhouse gas emissions.
Inslee, who lives on Bainbridge Island, launched his campaign not long after visiting the devastation from the wildfire in Paradise, Calif., the first of multiple disaster tours the Washingtonian would make as he warned that rising temperatures linked to human-driven greenhouse gas emissions would make extreme weather more likely and more dangerous.
In a campaign often dominated by issues of race, immigration and healthcare reform, Inslee repeatedly pressed the climate issue, turning his campaign into a one-stop policy shop turning out proposals including a plan to convert the nation to 100 % renewable energy by 2035--a massive transformation of the nation's economy similar to a major war effort.
Inslee demanded a Democratic debate focused on climate change, but was thwarted by Democratic National Committee debate rules set before the campaign. CNN, however, will host a presidential town hall dedicated to the issue Sept. 4.
His prodding was aided by climate activist groups that often rated his policies as the gold standard even in a Democratic field where many candidates have proposed aggressive plans to cut carbon emissions.
In the most recent debate, in Detroit, Inslee attacked front-runner Joe Biden's reluctance to eliminate the nation's use of coal.
"The time is up. Our house is on fire !" Inslee said, his voice rising in one of the debate's most plaintive moments. "Get off coal. Save this country and the planet."
But despite favorable reviews from some pundits, activists and climate experts, and a late upswing of donations, Inslee never drew the popular groundswell or garnered the celebrity of other candidates. As other more famous names were mobbed by camera crews and fans at the Iowa State Fair this month, Inslee could be spotted in line for a corn dog with a couple of staffers, looking relaxed but unharried by onlookers.
A spokesman, Jamal Raad, said that the campaign had attracted 42, 000 donors in less than three weeks since the most recent debate, but that it was "hard to keep the climate crisis front and center if not in [the ] debates."
"Never flashy, @JayInslee didn't find his lane, " former Barack Obama strategist David Axelrod tweeted. "But he impressed me with his smart, earnest advocacy around climate change and an array of issues. He leaves with his dignity in tact and reputation enhanced, which isn't always true in presidential races."
"I will forever be grateful for what @JayInslee did for this Presidential race, " tweeted Leah Stokes, a UC Santa Barbara professor who studies energy and the environment. "He was a clarion call in the darkness. He made the stakes of the climate crisis clear to millions of Americans. He spoke truth to power. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."
Several of Inslee's former Democratic rivals also offered praise.
Inslee's departure follows those of Bay Area Rep. Eric Swalwell and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Inslee is eligible to run for a third term as Washington's governor, and he has signaled his openness to doing so.
"I love being governor, " Inslee said in a May interview with The Times. "I've got an easy, probably a likely third term should I like one ; I've got a dynamic state, best economy in the country. I've been extremely successful for ways I'd hope to talk about."
But Inslee added, referring to the climate issue : "My wife and I had a discussion about this. ... We wanted to be able to say we did everything we could. And we realize how diminished and degraded and despoiled my grandchildren's lives will be if we don't get a president in the next term to make it job No. 1."
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