In reading the recent email of many money pitches from chief fundraiser Tracy Newman, you’d think Gov. Jay Inslee is on the road toward winning the Democratic presidential nomination.
“Since we launched this campaign — 11 days ago — hundreds of thousands of Americans from every state have joined our campaign,” Newman boasted.
Think again. Inslee had a fine campaign launch, but faces a long uphill climb. So far he has climbed to 10th on CNN’s “most likely” list of potential nominees, and registered 1 percent in a Des Moines Register poll of the big Democratic field.
Better than New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand at zero.
But the climate change candidate has already watched a change in the climate of the campaign. Ex-U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke brought star power to the race on Thursday. He graces the cover of Vanity Fair. He has a huge grass roots fundraising base. He recently drew thousands to a rally in El Paso while across town President Trump was piling up false claims about his coveted border wall.
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The Texan has also gotten under Trump’s thin, orange skin. Said the 45th President — he of tiny hands — reacting to O’Rourke: “I think he’s got a lot of hand movement. I’ve never seen so much hand movement. I said, ‘Is he crazy or is that the way he acts?'”
O’Rourke is the 15th candidate in the Democrats’ race. After watching the chants of “Run Joe Run!” at the Firefighters convention this week, ex-Vice President Joe Biden is about to become No. 16 and the contest’s happy warrior.
What is a governor from this corner of America’s “Left Coast” to do when faced with star power? Talk solar.
Don’t let anyone steal the climate change issue. O’Rourke, in Iowa, signaled his intention to do just that. But Inslee has a record, which is being burnished by Democrats who run our Legislature. Clean power and clean fuels bills are on the move.
O’Rourke is already facing sniper fire on the left, wanting to get specifics out of a guy who is already courting independents and Republicans. The Guardian ran a near-hit piece on times he voted with Republicans in Congress.
Although he’s a vigorous 68, Inslee is not exactly positioned to raise the age issue against a 77-year-old Biden. Biden is old-shoe, but he appeals to blue-collar, union voters snubbed by chilly Hillary and successfully courted by Trump in 2016.
But for Inslee, there are opportunities to catch fire.
He did well with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes earlier this week, and sparkled on ABC’s “The View,” particularly when an over-matched Meghan McCain challenged him with Republican talking points on clean energy.
Other people can play this game. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, another longshot, was refreshing-bordering-on-eloquent in a weekend CNN town hall, and saw $600,000 flow into his coffers in the hours afterward.
The Democrats have set a low threshold for participating in kickoff candidate debates. They will probably divide the field into two debates, so many are the contenders.
Inslee is a capable debater, always on message and quick with his comebacks. He is likely to come out with “bites” that will make network news shows.
Again, however, other people can play this game. The skilled questioning and quick responses of Sens. Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar were displayed at confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey did not fare so well.
And then there are the cattle calls, which can catapult a candidate or send one crashing.
Republican Mitt Romney gave Democrats a season’s worth of ammunition with his corporations-are-people riff at the 2011 Iowa State Fair. Candidate Barack Obama swept Democrats’ Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in 2007, at a time when he trailed far behind Clinton in the polls.
Inslee could stand out in such settings, sticking to climate change — a clear and present danger to us all — while other Democrats jam together appeals to party interest groups. Identity politics has a tinny, artificial sound.
Speculation here is that Inslee is also running for vice president, hoping for a surprising showing and favorable buzz from national pundits if he doesn’t win the top spot.
He has competition on ticket balancing front. Ex-Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper comes from a “purple” swing state and twice won the statehouse in big Republican years. O’Rourke is charismatic, comes from a border state, and could put Texas in play.
Used to 30-day provincial and 60-day national campaigns, Canadian friends shake their heads at America’s drawn out pursuit of the presidency. John F. Kennedy announced for the 1960 Democratic nomination . . . in 1960.
With 19 months to go, 15 Democrats have already declared. Who will survive? Our state’s guy needs to break out of the pack. Jay Inslee will have his chances.