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Wyble: Could Jay Inslee be President?

John Wyble is the Creative Director at Indelible Media, a Democratic campaign consulting firm. He will write an occasional column for the Wire, called “From the Left,” throughout the year. 


Could Governor Jay Inslee be the next President of the United States? I hear some skepticism, because our Washington is a long way from the other Washington. But I think it’s possible.

We hear a lot of comparisons to former Washington State Senator Henry Jackson’s campaigns in 1972 and 1976. It’s easy to make that comparison because of geography, but I don’t think it’s applicable.

Jackson was a seasoned, inside-the-beltway candidate at a time when voters were looking for change. It doesn’t help that he was from our small, west-coast state, where he didn’t get in front of as many east coast voters as some other candidates. While he had an amazing track record of achievement as a United States Senator, he was simply the wrong candidate at the wrong time.

I think there are a couple of other candidates from the past that are more comparable to Jay Inslee. Those candidates are Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

Before we get to that, let me be clear: I believe the frontrunners for President, currently, are Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris.

Why? Because they have a massive advantage in fundraising compared to other candidates. Sanders and Biden have the added bonus of very high name ID and have run presidential campaigns before. I would put Beto O’Rourke and Cory Booker in a close 2nd tier, because they also have strong fundraising bases.

However, despite their advantages, I’m not sure either Biden or Sanders are the right candidates at the right time in this Democratic Primary.

Given the history of past presidential primaries, there will very likely be a surprise candidate that sneaks into the top three in the Iowa Caucuses. Once that surprise happens, they will need to follow that up with a strong showing in New Hampshire, and then the money and the attention follow.

We can look at past surprise candidates (i.e. Carter, Clinton) to see what those campaigns had in common and how they put themselves in frontrunner status.

1) Grassroots

Jimmy Carter went to every county in Iowa. His campaign was exactly the kind of over-the-kitchen-table conversion campaign where he met one-on one-with caucus voters and garnered their vote. He was a refreshing, authentic change after one of the most scandalous periods in US history.

Bill Clinton, of course, was an amazing retail politician. He was known for his indefatigable energy on the campaign trail and his inability to leave a room before every hand was shared and every baby was kissed.

2) A strong rapport with the press

To me, the press on the trail is a little like music or movie critics. The polls may be showing that one candidate is popular, but the “critics,” or, in this case, the press have their favorite.

This happened with Carter, Clinton and — on the Republican side — John McCain. Being that critical favorite has allowed some back-of-the-pack candidates to move up quickly as the press fawns over their campaigns.

3) Fortune favors the bold

This is not the time to be a cautious, incrementalist. Inslee’s campaign will stand out for being bold and courageous.

Governor Inslee is talking about the most urgent issue of our time. While the other candidates are in the weeds about their differing health care proposals, Inslee can cut through with the urgency of getting results on climate change. He has a good chance to pass his clean energy bill through the Washington State Legislature (with a goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2045) this year, which will help him show his ability to make headway on this critical issue.

Governor Inslee started out strong. He made a couple smart hires with Aisling Kerins and long-time Washington State fundraiser Tracy Newman.

It’s time to get out there in the middle of rural Iowa and get face-to-face with those likely caucus attendees. It’s time to build those relationships with national reporters covering the race. It’s time to put out a bold agenda to make America a leader in combating climate change.

I believe Governor Inslee can do those three things and put himself in the hunt to be the next President of the United States.