Jay Inslee, governor who centred climate change in US presidential race, drops out of the contest

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee said he believed that the campaign had been a success, by prompting other candidates to take the issue of climate change seriously.
Washington state Governor Jay Inslee said he believed that the campaign had been a success, by prompting other candidates to take the issue of climate change seriously.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - Washington state governor Jay Inslee, who entered the presidential contest by making the case that climate change is the central issue of our time, dropped out of the race for Democratic nominee for president on Wednesday night (Aug 21).

Mr Inslee, who made the announcement on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, had argued that addressing climate change should be the top priority when he announced his candidacy in March - "the most urgent challenge of our time". The two-term governor released a plan that called for a new Justice Department office to prosecute environmental laws, and vowed to put at least 40 per cent of federal investments in clean energy in communities disproportionately affected by income inequality, pollution and other climate-related impacts.

But he struggled to gain name recognition and wide support among his more nationally famous peers in the contest, with polls hovering around 1 per cent or lower. An aggregate of polls by the site RealClearPolitics showed Mr Inslee with a national average of 0.2 per cent.

"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," he told Ms Maddow.

In a letter to supporters, Mr Inslee said he was not meeting the polling threshold set by the Democratic National Committee to qualify for debates in the fall, despite 130,000 campaign donors.

"As a result, I don't believe we can compete for the attention and exposure needed to have a reasonable shot at the nomination," he said.

Still, he said he believed that the campaign had been a success, by prompting other candidates to take the issue of climate change seriously.

"In recent presidential cycles, climate change got little attention from the candidates, the Democratic National Committee (DNC), or the media," he wrote to supporters.

 
 

"We vowed to change that in a big way and succeeded. Many of the campaigns started with little attention to climate, but since our campaign began, we've seen almost every serious candidate put out a climate plan; we've seen climate come up in both debates; and we now have two networks hosting nationally televised climate forums in September."

Mr Inslee told Ms Maddow that he felt hemmed in by the design of the televised debates, where candidates were given short amounts of time to answer on complex subjects like climate change.

He declined to make an early endorsement of any of the candidates but he said that he would support the eventual nominee no matter who they were.

"I think we're going to be just fine ultimately," he said. "We just need to get to the business of unifying the party. I believe we will do that."

Senator Elizabeth Warren, one of the remaining contenders in the race for the nomination, tweeted a note of appreciation to Mr Inslee.

"Climate change is real and it's a crisis - and I will keep fighting alongside you to take bold action before it is too late," she wrote.

"Congratulations to @JayInslee on his impactful campaign to bring the climate crisis to the forefront of the national conversation," Senator Bernie Sanders, another candidate still in the race, wrote in a tweet on Wednesday night. "There is no more important issue facing humanity. Together we will work to pass a Green New Deal and create millions of jobs."

Greenpeace USA also praised Mr Inslee for making climate change the focus of his campaign. "Mr Inslee raised the bar for what's expected of the next president on climate. Now, it's up to every one of the remaining candidates to pick up where he left off," the environmental group said in a tweet.

Mr Inslee had worked to address climate change in his state in the Pacific Northwest, but met plenty of resistance. A measure to reduce emissions by taxing carbon were defeated by Republicans in the state's legislature, while an attempt to cap pollution with an executive order was blocked by a judge.

The Associated Press, citing people close to Mr Inslee, reported that he is likely to seek a third term as governor of Washington.