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caption: Governor Jay Inslee hugs Lucia Noreus, 11, a 5th-grader from Redmond, after announcing his candidacy for President on Friday, March 1, 2019, at A&R Solar on Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Seattle.
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Governor Jay Inslee hugs Lucia Noreus, 11, a 5th-grader from Redmond, after announcing his candidacy for President on Friday, March 1, 2019, at A&R Solar on Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Can a single-issue candidate like Gov. Jay Inslee win the presidency?

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is rolling himself out to the nation this week as a 2020 presidential hopeful. But can he make it as a single-issue candidate?

KUOW’s Angela King talked about that with Q13 political analyst C.R. Douglas and Joni Balter, host of “Civic Cocktail” on the Seattle Channel.

They noted Inslee appeared on ABC News this weekend and had appearances scheduled on The Rachel Maddow Show and The View.

But King asked if Inslee’s climate change message would be enough to elevate him among more than a dozen Democratic candidates.

This transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Douglas: Well, generally a narrow focus is not a good political strategy. You want to have broad appeal, but in this crowded field it's a way to differentiate himself. It's a way to sort of stand out and be known especially when you have a lower name recognition than the other folks.

Balter: I think it's better to be single issue in a primary election and then you have to branch out by the general. So when you have 14 candidates, I think the current tally is, it is OK to be known as something because at least people see you and then say, "Oh that guy, that's the climate guy."

Now once you get on the stage for the debates, you have to branch out and show you can do all this other stuff, and I will note that this Wednesday Jay Inslee has a speech on climate change and national security here in Seattle at the Jackson School [at the University of Washington] so he's already trying to broaden himself. Also in the announcement he seemed to be very much be appealing to millennials. He also mentioned legalizing marijuana nationwide. He had a few other issues in there, some minimum wage stuff.

Douglas: I also think he doesn't really have a choice. The energy in the party is with youth, it's with women, it's with minorities. Here's an older white male — you're not going to outdo Sen. Kamala Harris on the diversity question or Sen. Amy Klobuchar on the female question. This is a way for him to get some traction in a party that's kind of all about identity politics.

King: But one question a lot of people do have is: Can he juggle both running for president and still running Washington state?

Balter: Well, that's always a fun thing — the whole “where's Jay Inslee today?” kind of stuff that you'll hear from the Republicans. Look, many folks who became president had been governors, including Bill Clinton and George Bush. So it's not like it's unheard of. It's easier in this one regard for senators to run because they're expected to bounce back and forth between locations. Governors are supposed to be at home tending the fires. But this is partisan, because I know for a fact that the GOP never said that Bobby Jindal or Scott Walker said they should resign as governor.

Douglas: I mean, you never know if something's going to blow up when you're out of town. I mean he was gone almost 100 days last year on political business so as governor there's always another meeting you can have with people here, there's another political impasse you could broker. I'm talking about state issues and if you're not here you're not doing some of those things that probably comes at some kind of indeterminate cost.

King: So let's talk about the governor's track record. How do you think that's going to play out on other issues?

Douglas: Well he's got a strong economy but a couple of things are going to definitely come up in that debate stage. Someone's going to talk about the mental health crisis in Washington. It is a crisis. There have been injunctions and court orders and fines and decertifications — he's going to have to answer for that. And I also think that the Boeing tax breaks of his early years as governor, almost $9 billion. In a party that fought Amazon out in New York because the tax breaks largely, and when you have Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren on that debate stage, Inslee's going to have to explain the Boeing tax breaks.

Balter: And there are the other negatives for him in in that regard here at home. Voters had two chances to go along with a carbon tax or a carbon fee and they said no. But also Jay Inslee has the booming economy to brag about. Now he may have had almost nothing to do with the fact that Amazon is here and this whole tech boom, but people are interested in the state of Washington. We have the two richest men in the world, although the one is about to get decidedly less rich, referring to the Jeff Bezos divorce. So he has a good economic story to tell from Washington state and he can take credit. He's a sunny guy. He loves to talk about innovation. That's all to the good.