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
© Getty Images

Flanked by a sea of college students and colorful signs, 68-year-old Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert Inslee2020 Democrats defend climate priorities in MSNBC forum Overnight Energy: Trump officials formally revoke California emissions waiver | EPA's Wheeler dodges questions about targeting San Francisco over homelessness | 2020 Dems duke it out at second climate forum Yang floats nominating Inslee as 'climate czar' MORE (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 SandersBernie SandersSanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest Krystal Ball tears into 'Never Trump' Republicans 2020 Democrats defend climate priorities in MSNBC forum MORE (I-Vt.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest Pelosi wants to change law to allow a sitting president to be indicted MORE (D-Mass.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisTrump reignites court fight with Ninth Circuit pick MSNBC Climate Change Forum draws 1.3M viewers in 8 pm timeslot Iowa Steak Fry to draw record crowds for Democrats MORE (D-Calif.) and former Rep. Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeNRA deems O'Rourke 'Salesman of the Month' after Arizona gun store sells out of AR-15s during 'Beto Special' MSNBC Climate Change Forum draws 1.3M viewers in 8 pm timeslot The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump pushes back over whistleblower controversy MORE (D-Texas).

ADVERTISEMENT

“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 younger generations will respond to. 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-CortezMarkey fundraises ahead of Kennedy primary challenge The Hill's Campaign Report: De Blasio drops out | Warren gains support from black voters | Sanders retools campaign team | Warning signs for Tillis in NC Progressives push for changes to Pelosi drug pricing plan 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.