Washington Gov. Jay Inslee ended his presidential run Wednesday evening, announcing it had become clear that his climate change-focused campaign would not succeed.
The Associated Press, citing two people close to Inslee, reported that he plans to run for a third term as governor.
Since launching his campaign in March, Inslee has laid out a series of ambitious plans to combat climate change, calling it the preeminent issue the next president must tackle. Those plans drew praise from activists, environmentalists and even his fellow candidates, but Inslee was unable to catch on with voters in early polls.
His campaign on Monday celebrated that he’d amassed 130,000 separate donors, surpassing a threshold set by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to qualify for the third televised debate next month. But he was never close to the DNC’s other threshold — 2% support in early polls. He didn’t reach the mark in any poll and his polling average hovered just barely above zero.
On Wednesday morning, Inslee released the sixth plank of his comprehensive plan to combat climate change and transform the national economy. Just 12 hours later, he announced he was done.
“Our mission to defeat climate change must continue to be central to our national discussion — and must be the top priority for our next president,” Inslee wrote in a message to supporters Wednesday night. “But I’ve concluded that my role in that effort will not be as a candidate to be the next president of the United States.”
“There are other avenues for me to be very effective at pushing the climate-change message,” Inslee said in an interview on MSNBC, during which he announced his withdrawal.
Inslee, through a campaign spokeswoman, declined an interview request Wednesday night. He said he would make a statement Thursday about his political plans. Inslee was first elected governor in 2012, and was reelected in 2016. No Washington governor has run for a third term since Republican Gov. Dan Evans, who ran for, and won, a third term in 1972.
Despite a field that has hovered near two dozen candidates, the Democratic primary has been remarkably stable. Former Vice President Joe Biden has led in almost every poll since he joined the race in April, generally receiving somewhere in the neighborhood of 30% support. He’s been trailed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and, more recently, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Every other candidate has mostly been polling in the single digits. Inslee is the third candidate to drop out this year, following California Rep. Eric Swalwell and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Inslee stressed the importance of unifying the Democratic Party to beat President Donald Trump.
“We should attack him at his weakest point with our strongest candidate,” he said. “We need to find that candidate.” He gave no hint that he was ready to endorse one of his former opponents.
Inslee’s name has been bandied about as a potential Cabinet secretary — perhaps leading the Department of the Interior or the Environmental Protection Agency — if Democrats are able to re-take the White House in 2020.
Almost every leading Democrat remaining in the presidential race praised Inslee Wednesday night.
Biden said he “brought an important voice to the race” and that Washington is fortunate to have him as governor.
Sanders congratulated him on “his impactful campaign to bring the climate crisis to the forefront.”
California Sen. Kamala Harris said “few leaders have done more” than Inslee to spotlight the climate crisis and that “his voice will be missed.”
Former Housing Secretary Julián Castro thanked Inslee for his “unwavering effort to save our planet.”
“Jay Inslee didn’t find his lane, but he impressed me with his smart, earnest advocacy around climate change,” David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, wrote on Wednesday. “He leaves with his dignity intact and reputation enhanced, which isn’t always true in presidential races.”
Inslee raised more than $5 million for his campaign. He was also the only Democratic candidate to embrace the help of a single-candidate super PAC, which can accept donations of unlimited amount. That group raised more than $2 million, solely for Inslee’s benefit, from just a handful of local donors who each gave more than $100,000.
He’s spent most of the last six months out of state, campaigning, and has drawn criticism from political opponents for the costs of the Washington State Patrol security detail that accompanies him wherever he goes.
In his letter to supporters, Inslee noted that almost every Democratic presidential candidate has released plans to fight climate change and that both MSNBC and CNN are planning climate town-hall events, partially in response to his repeated calls for a climate-focused debate. But Inslee would have been locked out of the CNN town hall, focused on his signature issue, as the network used the same polling threshold as the DNC.
Inslee did qualify for the first two debates, and received generally positive reviews, but on a crowded stage he failed to register performances that could have changed the trajectory of his campaign.
Other state and local officials, including Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz and King County Executive Dow Constantine, have said they were eyeing the governor’s office should Inslee choose not to run for a third term.
There was another coterie of potential candidates waiting to run if Ferguson, Franz and Constantine entered the governor’s race.
Constantine on Wednesday night said Inslee had called to say he was ending his presidential bid. He said the two had discussed Inslee’s plans, but Constantine wouldn’t say what they were.
“I’ll let him speak,” he said.
Constantine credited Inslee with successfully inserting climate change into the debate among Democratic contenders.
Inslee also called Franz to say he was dropping his presidential bid, although she declined to say what was discussed.
She credited Inslee for “putting the health of our planet front and center in the presidential campaign.”
Ferguson could not be reached for comment.