The visit is a chance for Inslee to draw attention to his proto-candidacy — and his case that the Democratic Party must nominate a presidential candidate, who, as he wrote in a Washington Post Op-Ed published Thursday, "will put fighting climate change at the top of the agenda."
Amid a forecast for a heavy winter storm, Gov. Jay Inslee plans a two-day trip to New Hampshire this week to talk about his signature issue of climate change and test the waters for his possible 2020 presidential run.
Inslee is scheduled to attend a fundraiser Monday for an environmental group at the home of former New Hampshire Congressman Paul Hodes, and speak Tuesday with students at Dartmouth College and Saint Anselm College.
The cross-country jaunt, which comes as the Washington Legislature enters the second week of its 2019 session, is a chance for Inslee to draw attention to his proto-candidacy — and his case that the Democratic Party must nominate a presidential candidate, who, as he wrote in a Washington Post Op-Ed published Thursday, “will put fighting climate change at the top of the agenda.”
However, news of his visit has drawn a frosty response from some Granite State Democrats frustrated by his failure, as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association last year, to direct money in support of candidate Molly Kelly, who lost to incumbent Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.
Longtime Democratic political operative Judy Reardon slammed Inslee on Twitter for “terrible political judgment” when his visit was announced earlier this month.
“As chair of the DGA he chose to spend zilch of the $138 million the DGA spent on 2018 governors races in NH. Spent a fortune on losing races in FL and GA. A little bit of it could have made a difference in NH,” she wrote.
Reardon, former legal counsel to New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, mocked Inslee’s appearance to campaign with Kelly last year.
“@GovInslee wants us to think that a governor from the state of Washington with zero name recognition appearing with Molly Kelly in NH was helpful to her campaign. It was helpful to him,” she wrote.
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New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley also generated headlines, telling television station WMUR he looked forward “to hearing from Gov. Inslee his reasons for abandoning New Hampshire in 2018 …”
In an interview with The Seattle Times on Friday, Buckley downplayed the controversy, saying his earlier comments should not overshadow Inslee’s visit.
“It was a side comment in a long conversation that one reporter wanted to make national news out of,” Buckley said. “It should not be the focus of your story.”
Buckley spoke positively about Inslee’s record as governor and earlier in Congress, including support for middle class tax cuts and marriage equality.
“If he decides to run and is able to get his message out, I think he will get a very receptive audience,” he said, adding that governors historically have performed well in the primary.
Jamal Raad, a spokesman for Inslee, said the governor is proud of his stint as DGA chairman, which resulted in the flipping of seven Republican-held governor seats to Democrats — the best result for the party in 36 years.
Raad said Inslee is “a huge fan” of Kelly, and attended fundraisers for her in addition to personally campaigning with her after last year’s primary. But, he said, the electoral map “was expansive, and unfortunately the DGA had to make some tough decisions.”
He said Inslee and Buckley spoke Friday and “had a good chat.” The two plan to meet when Inslee is in the state.
Other veteran New Hampshire political operatives offered mixed perspectives on Inslee’s prospects, saying his climate focus could resonate, but noting he has not yet laid any groundwork to run a credible presidential primary campaign.
Kathy Sullivan, former chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said that while Inslee may be behind on the organizational front, “He, more so than I think anybody else in the field right now, can really drive climate change and environmental issues. No one else has really taken control of that issue yet as a candidate.”
New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary acts as an early culling ground for presidential candidates, coming in February just after the Iowa caucuses. It gives considerable influence to the small northeastern state, whose largest city, Manchester, has a population of 110,000 — roughly the size of Everett.
Some of the best-known 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls have already snatched up the state’s experienced campaign staffers and have been making inroads with activists.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has formed an official 2020 exploratory committee, has made key hires in New Hampshire, as well as other early primary states. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, who won the 2016 New Hampshire primary, has a built-in network of supporters from his previous run.
Inslee, who has formed a federal PAC and says he’ll make a decision on whether to run for president by April, has shown no signs of building a state organization in New Hampshire, according to Democratic political veterans there.
“I am not aware that he is doing any organizing. He and his people have not reached out to me,” said Larry Drake, chairman of the Rockingham County Democrats in New Hampshire’s second-largest county, adding “I don’t take it personally.”
Drake said his organization hosts meet-and-greets for pretty much any Democratic presidential candidate who asks. Already the group has met with former Maryland Congressman John Delaney, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, among others, and has been in contact with representatives of Warren and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown.
Still, Drake said that with voting more than a year off, Inslee still has time, noting plenty of other candidates also have not yet organized on the ground in New Hampshire.
“I have heard nothing about him,” said Gene Martin, chairman of the Manchester Democratic Party. He said he’s been contacted by “probably 25” declared or potential candidates or their representatives.
The crowded nature of the Democratic field, which could have 30 candidates, means early organizing and campaign hires are important, Martin said, and candidates who don’t make those links could suffer.
“The tough thing about New Hampshire is New Hampshire is all about relationships,” he said.
In addition to Warren and Sanders, Martin cited Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., as among the potential presidential contenders who have been cultivating potential staff and activists. For others, it’s getting late to catch up.
“Unless you are Beto,” Martin said, referring to former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who became a national Democratic sensation in his losing bid to unseat Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. “I think he is the only person who hasn’t been making that outreach who could still steal people.”