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Inslee heading to Iowa for Democratic fundraiser, prompting questions about a possible run for president

UPDATED: Fri., May 25, 2018, 9:31 a.m.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee prepares to sign  bills after the end of the legislative session in March. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee prepares to sign bills after the end of the legislative session in March. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee is headed to Iowa next month as the keynote speaker for a fundraiser at a gathering of that state’s leading Democratic officials.

But just because he’s making a trip to the home of the nation’s first presidential caucuses is not necessarily an early indication Inslee has plans to run for the White House in 2020.

His invitation is a result of his role as the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Democratic Party said. That state has a hot gubernatorial race this year, and it’s part of Inslee’s job with the DGA to get more Democrats elected to those seats.

He was in Nevada last month and will be in Colorado this week, Jamal Raad, an Inslee spokesman said.

Inslee will be speaking at the Iowa party’s Hall of Fame Celebration, which will honor activists, party members and elected officials. He was chosen in part because he “exemplified a lot of good progressive policies in Washington,” Tess Seger, the Iowa Democratic Party spokeswoman, said.

The question of whether this annual event, the party’s second biggest fundraiser of the year, is a stepping stone to the caucuses regularly comes up, Seger said. But the invited speakers “run the gamut,” she said.

Last year, it was actor Alec Baldwin, she said, who did his impersonation of President Trump which he made famous on Saturday Night Live. In 2010, which like this year had a gubernatorial election in Iowa, the keynote speaker was Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.

The attention for Iowa Democrats won’t likely shift from the governor’s race to the White House until 2019, Seger said.

Since taking the post as DGA chairman, Inslee has fielded questions about a possible White House run. Several previous chairmen – Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton and Howard Dean – have later run for president, although most, including Washington’s Gary Locke and Chris Gregoire, have not.

Inslee has said Democrats can’t wait until 2020 to challenge Trump’s policies and is confident the party will have a presidential nominee who will put clean energy and fighting climate change front and center in the campaign, Raad said. And if there isn’t a candidate emphasizing those issues?

“He hasn’t said,” Raad replied.

His name was mentioned a few times in 2017 after the state successfully challenged the Trump administration on its immigration restrictions. CNN’s Chris Cillizza grouped him in a second tier of possible candidates who “have potential to be major contenders but not there…yet.” Axios, a political news website, placed him in the “outsiders” category with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

(Editor’s note: An early version of this post incorrectly listed Gov. John Hickenlooper’s name.)

InMarch , with an eye on the NCAA basketball tournament, CNN created brackets for the possible Democratic field, and seeded Inslee third in the governor bracket, while describing him as “still mostly unknown nationally.”

Washington has not been a hotbed of presidential aspirations. The state’s most recent, and arguably its strongest contender for the presidency, was Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic Party nomination in 1972, and again in 1976 when he won primaries or caucuses in Washington, New York, Massachusetts and Alaska before losing Pennsylvania to Jimmy Carter and dropping out of the race.


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