Inslee doubles down on climate in bid to stand out among 2020 Dems

Inslee doubles down on climate in bid to stand out among 2020 Dems
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Flanked by a sea of college students and colorful signs, 68-year-old Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) stood out from the crowd Friday at the National Youth Climate Strike in New York.

“This is a moment of great peril, but it is also a moment of great promise,” Inslee, a 2020 presidential candidate, said while speaking to students at Columbia University.

“We have a generation right here today that owns the future, is the future and, starting right here from New York and across the world, is going to save the future for this planet,” he added.

Inslee's stop at Columbia was part of his "Climate Mission Tour" intended to draw attention to his nascent presidential campaign, which he launched at the beginning of March.

The 2020 Democrat aims to make climate change a defining policy issue, centering his long-shot campaign around the dangers of global warming as he looks to set himself apart in a crowded Democratic primary field.

The West Coast governor is competing with more than a dozen fellow contenders, including big-name politicians such as Sens. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersHere's what the Dem candidates for president said about the Mueller report Booker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Harris wants Barr to testify on Mueller report as 2020 Dems call for its release MORE (I-Vt.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenHere's what the Dem candidates for president said about the Mueller report Booker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Harris wants Barr to testify on Mueller report as 2020 Dems call for its release MORE (D-Mass.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisKamala Harris to pitch using federal funds to give teachers pay raises Dem senator: 'Appropriate' for Barr, Mueller to testify publicly about Russia probe Here's what the Dem candidates for president said about the Mueller report MORE (D-Calif.) and former Rep. Beto O'RourkeRobert (Beto) Francis O'RourkeHere's what the Dem candidates for president said about the Mueller report Booker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Harris wants Barr to testify on Mueller report as 2020 Dems call for its release MORE (D-Texas).

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“It’s a very focused message, but he has a message, and it’s a message that seems to be resonating in the court of public opinion,” said Ron Dotzauer, head of Seattle-based Strategies 360.

“If you tried to run on the climate change issue eight or 12 years ago, you probably would have gotten a lot of challenge,” he continued. “But seemingly it's the consciousness of voters.”

It’s an issue he believes will resonate with younger generations. Polls show that climate change resonates strongly with that demographic, which is becoming an increasingly important voting bloc to win over.

The issue of climate change has grown in significance among Democratic voters. A Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom poll of likely Democratic caucusgoers released last week found that climate change was among top-tier issues voters wanted to hear candidates discuss “a lot.”

Eighty percent of respondents said it was the top issue they wanted to hear presidential hopefuls speak about, just behind 81 percent who wanted to hear about health care.

The fact that climate change and the environment are growing from issues Democratic voters care about to issues they may vote on could be a boon to Inslee, who in the past ran on platforms of environmentalism and pushed green initiatives, drawing mixed results.

In 2007, as a Washington congressman, Inslee co-authored a book titled “Apollo's Fire” that examined ways to reduce greenhouse gases and proposed technological advances that could push the U.S. economy away from fossil fuel dependence.

In Washington, he’s boosted electric car infrastructure and created a clean energy fund to finance green projects. He also was a major backer of the state’s push to implement a carbon tax last year, but it ultimately failed to pass the ballot.

“He is not a Johnny-come-lately on this issue. Back to his early congressional days, he’s always been about the environment and environmental issues and consequences. He can’t be attacked for being opportunistic. He’s not a bandwagon chaser,” Dotzauer said.

While some experts say Inslee's climate change platform may propel him to the mainstream, others caution that it could backfire if he doesn’t diversify his policy positions.

“One-issue candidates rarely win any office, let alone the White House,” said Mary Anne Marsh, a democratic analyst.

“Now the one way it might work for Jay Inslee is if he can hammer this message home effectively over a period of time that gets the attention of voters. He may then be able to use it to get people to know him, distinguish him from the field and then use that issue to turn to other issues,” she continued.

Owning climate change is also becoming increasingly difficult as other Democratic candidates commit to similar platforms and sign onto issues such as the progressive-backed Green New Deal championed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOvernight Energy: Interior reverses decision at heart of Zinke criminal probe | Dem divisions deepen over approach to climate change | GM to add 400 workers to build electric cars 'Washington Monthly' editor says diversity on Capitol Hill starts with interns Why is my party prioritizing an extreme environmental agenda? MORE (D-N.Y.)

“This is the danger of having one issue, because everyone is talking about climate change. He has to distinguish himself in a way that puts him head and shoulders above everyone else,” Marsh said.

“If Inslee wants to move to the top tier and be competitive among the race, he can use that to start, but if that’s his only issue, he won’t be able to finish the race and win,” she added.