Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has surpassed a milestone that his presidential campaign has been aiming at and emphasizing for weeks: He said he's received contributions from more than 130,000 different donors.
"This is an enormous win for climate activists and for the grassroots movement to defeat climate change," Inslee said in prepared statements. "Together we have put the climate crisis front and center in the 2020 race."
But they haven't put Inslee front and center in the 2020 race.
His climate-focused campaign has had an impact on the overcrowded Democratic presidential race, but it hasn't been able to boost Inslee's standing in the contest. He remains near the very bottom of Democratic primary polls, he won't appear in a CNN climate town hall that his cajoling helped spur and he's almost certain to be left out of the next Democratic debate.
The 130,000 donors may be a win for the campaign, but it's looking like a hollow victory.
The number, after all, is an arbitrary figure chosen by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to determine who of the nearly two dozen Democratic presidential candidates will qualify for the third debate in September. But Inslee is falling far short of the DNC's other determining threshold: polling. To qualify for the next debate, candidates need to garner at least 2% in four separate polls by Aug. 28.
Inslee's unceasing calls for a climate debate haven't persuaded the DNC to stage one, but they've led both MSNBC and CNN to announce "climate town halls" with presidential candidates.
But while he's released the race's most detailed and ambitious plans to combat climate change, and become a near daily fixture on cable news, Inslee won't be invited to participate in CNN's Climate Crisis Town Hall. CNN, which has invited nine candidates, is using the same polling threshold for its Sept. 4 event as the DNC is using for its debate, the week after.
Inslee's campaign declined an interview request.
David Turnbull, communications director for the climate-advocacy group Oil Change U.S., said Inslee has had an impact even if it's not showing up in his polling numbers.
He pointed to polling results showing that Democratic voters view climate change as a top-tier issue and credited Inslee with furthering that cause.
"The whole premise of his campaign is just so important," Turnbull said. "The fact that he is saying that the climate crisis needs to be at the center of the next president's agenda, and underpinning everything that they do, is spot-on."
Aseem Prakash, the founding director of the University of Washington Center for Environmental Politics, applauded Inslee's focus on climate change but said the governor is unlikely to gain traction, after missing the CNN event and — almost certainly — the third DNC debate.
He said that Inslee was, to a certain extent, a "victim of his own success." Every Democratic candidate, Prakash said, has an aggressive plan to combat climate change.
"Climate change is now a mainstream issue in the Democratic Party," Prakash said. "The unique selling proposition of Jay Inslee is no longer there. Gov. Inslee does not have anything that distinguishes him from the pack."
Prakash noted that there is a cascade of Washington politicians waiting on the outcome of Inslee's foundering presidential campaign. There are statewide and county officials — Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz and King County Executive Dow Constantine — who are considering running for governor if Inslee doesn't seek a third term.
And there are aides, legislators and city officials — Solicitor General Noah Purcell, state Sen. Christine Rolfes, state Rep. Drew Hansen and Seattle City Councilmember M. Lorena González — who say they will run for statewide office if the current officeholders choose to launch gubernatorial campaigns.
"A lot of people are wondering whether Gov. Inslee will seek a third term," Prakash said. "I think the earlier he clears the situation, the better it will be for politics in the state of Washington."