Inslee for president? Rumors circulate amid governors association announcement

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Twenty years ago it would have seemed far-fetched.

A liberal, environmentally-minded governor from the Northwest running for the nation's top office.

But not anymore. As rumors swirl about which Democrats will run for the party's nomination in 2020, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's name is near the top of some lists.

Though they're just rumors, certain moves made by Inslee, including stops in the Midwest and an election to an instrumental Democratic post, have many wondering:

Is Jay Inslee going to run for president?

Inslee in the other Washington

It's difficult to say exactly when rumors started.

In 2015, a Crosscut editorial suggested Inslee should run in 2016. Inslee made no mention of wanting to be president at the time; instead leaving it to other contenders such as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

But after dust from the 2016 election settled, Inslee's name started to pop up more and more.

An article appeared on CNN Politics, putting Inslee in a "Second Tier" of Democrats that have a shot at the nomination. In the piece, Inslee falls behind figureheads like former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren as favorites, and into the same category as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senator Cory Booker.

Inslee denied the rumors at the time. He told the Seattle Times after the CNN piece that he was focused on governing and a presidential run wasn't "in the stars."

Still, it's undeniable the two-term governor is viewed as a "rising star" in the party. Washington is seen as one of the most environmentally friendly state's in the country under Inslee's leadership. The state has spearheaded high-profile lawsuits against the Trump administration. Inslee has taken prominent stances on national issues. 

On Dec. 4, Inslee was elected chair of the Democratic Governors Association. The position is noteworthy not only in its influence on gubernatorial elections, but also in deciding Democratic talking points among governors. Bill Clinton was a former chair, and the institution played a role in helping him win the 1992 election.

"Here in Washington, we've seen the incredible progress a state can make with strong Democratic leadership in the governor's office, Washington State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski said in a statement to Q13 News. "Under Governor Jay Inslee's leadership, not only does Washington state have the strongest economy in the nation, according to CNBC, but we've also made huge strides in strengthening families by raising the minimum wage, providing paid sick leave, passing the best paid family leave policy in the nation, and capping the pollution that causes climate change."

Inslee hasn't been insular in just Washington state, either. He's made several trips international trips, including Mexico.  China's President Xi Jinping visited the state. Inslee has also been to Ohio, a battleground state, to meet with local party leaders.

Of course, it's hard if not impossible to get any confirmation that Inslee is planning on a run. His office did not immediately respond to request for comment on the speculation. It seems other state leaders who know and work well with Inslee also are hesitant to speculate.

"(Dow Constantine) enjoys working with the governor to address real issues facing our region, and hasn't really thought much about this national story," said Constantine's political consultant Christian Sinderman. "Right now, we need to be addressing homelessness, making sure we get light rail built to address traffic, and of course fund schools in an equitable way. That takes precedence over politics, especially in this coming year."

Q13 News correspondent Brandi Kruse's  sources say Inslee is "mulling" a possibility of a run in 2020, but he doesn't know for sure.

"Governor Inslee has certainly ratcheted up criticism of President Donald Trump," Kruse said. "Some see that as a sign that he is trying to raise his political star and become a larger part of the national political dialogue. Speaking with two people in Inslee’s inner circle in recent days, it is clear that he’s mulling the possibility, but truly has not come to a decision. The reality is, he has time and options. "

Still, Kruse hesitates to believe Inslee could make a deep push in a 2020 Democratic race sure to be packed with contenders.

"As far as whether he would be a viable candidate, I see hurdles for Inslee," Kruse said. "He struggles at times to come off as authentic, and in today’s political environment that may not be received well.”

Hurdles exist. But if the 2016 election is any example, hurdles can be overcome.