Like many Democratic presidential candidates on the stage for Wednesday night’s debate, Jay Inslee needed a win.
Whether he got it or not depended Thursday on who was watching, and their own political bent. Ultimately, it depends on how Inslee’s campaign does over the next four weeks.
Some pundits thought Inslee helped his effort to move from the governor’s mansion to the White House. Rolling Stone gave him the grade of A- for confronting former Vice President Joe Biden on climate change, playing up progressive policies in Washington state and describing President Donald Trump as “a white nationalist in the White House.” The music and pop culture magazine also noted his “Clark Kent specs.”
Inslee was just behind Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker in grading the 20 candidates from two nights of debate.
At the bottom of the magazine’s grade book were former Rep. John Delaney, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet.
The most generous – if somewhat salacious – rating of his performance might have come from New York magazine’s The Cut columnist Madeline Aggeler, who also mentioned the glasses and described him as “hot as hell. … Inslee distinguished himself. By being sexiiiii!”
“Inslee has the energy, jawline, and broad shoulders of the hot high school quarterback who is also nice and invites everyone to his parties, even the nerds. He looks like a retired superhero who is taking it easy now but can still lift a midsize sedan over his head. … He is dedicated to reversing climate change (hot), has a detailed ‘100% Clean Energy for America’ plan (hot), and he paints (hot)” Aggeler wrote in a column that spends more time reprinting tweets from others who share her view than discussing the debate.
The Hill, a newspaper and website that follows congressional and national politics closely, opined, however, that Inslee along with Hickenlooper, Delaney and eight other candidates should drop out of the race. Bennet, however, had a strong showing, the publication’s analysts thought.
The Independent said Inslee was strong on climate change but “forgettable on most other topics he chimed in on.”
Panelists for the Detroit Free Press, the daily newspaper of the city where the debate was held, were split. One said Inslee’s comment that science is setting the deadline on climate change was one of the night’s best responses, and two thought he should advance to the next round. But another said he should drop out because he’s not breaking through to the top tier.
Fox News declared Biden and California Sen. Kamala Harris the winners, but Inslee and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand losers because they “didn’t get the debate moment they needed to enhance their candidacies in order to qualify for the next round of debates.”
A Washington Post analysis thought Harris and Biden were losers, while former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro and tech entrepreneur Michael Yang were winners.
The BBC said Yang and self-help author Marianne Williamson were winners – with the qualifier that neither will be the Democratic nominee – while Biden was a winner because of a stronger showing than the first debate and Harris a loser because she was the target of more jabs after her first debate win.
CBS said Biden stabilized his campaign after a bad performance in June, while Harris and Booker played to African American voters in an early primary in South Carolina. Inslee, Yang, Bennet and Gillibrand “did themselves some good. “
CNN, which sponsored the debate, called Booker, Castro and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard winners in its wrap-up of winners and losers, and didn’t mention Inslee. David Axelrod, a CNN commentator, however, said Inslee “had a very good night. Not flashy but earnest.”
The New York Post described Inslee as “treading water” and discounted his prospects for the nomination. “He made a case for getting a job in someone else’s administration,” the newspaper said.
Nate Silver, at the political website FiveThirtyEight, didn’t move Inslee up or down from his predebate spot in a lower tier of candidates who will have to work to qualify for the stage in September. He’s ranked with Gillibrand, Gabbard and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.
What pundits say about any of the candidates’ performances isn’t as important as the response of potential new donors and people surveyed for political polls. By the end of the month, all candidates must have at least 130,000 individual donors, and register at least 2% in four designated polls.
Inslee spokeswoman Aisling Kerins said the campaign received 10,000 donations after the debate, putting them near 100,000 individual donors. He’ll need slightly more than 1,000 new donors a day to hit the qualifying mark, and to double his highest poll showing of 1%.