Gov. Jay Inslee got more in the second Democratic presidential debate Wednesday than he did in the first debate a month ago.
More time speaking on camera. More chances to debate his key issue – climate change. More opportunities to suggest some of the answers to the nation’s weightiest problems are on display in Washington state.
The question – which won’t be answered definitively for about a month – is whether he got enough of those things to generate the kind of support to qualify for the third debate in September and keep his campaign for president going.
For the first half-hour, after each candidate got a chance to make an opening statement, Inslee seemed once again relegated to the out-of-sight, out-of-mind zone of the debate. Former Vice President Joe Biden and California Sen. Kamala Harris sparred over who had the more realistic plan to revise health care systems in America. Harris wants to replace private insurance with Medicare for all, Biden calls for an expansion of the Affordable Care Act and each accused the other of not knowing what their plan would do or cost.
Slowly the moderators brought other candidates into the fray, which resulted in Harris or Biden demanding and getting a chance to respond when their plans were called into question. When Inslee was one of the last candidates brought into the discussion, he initially stuck to what Washington did by expanding health coverage and trying to lower drug costs – but he didn’t stop there.
“It’s time to give people adequate mental health care in this country,” he said.
When the topic switched to immigration, Inslee was the eighth candidate asked to weigh in, but he drew some cheers from the audience when he opened his minute of comment with a jab at President Donald Trump, not his fellow candidates.
“We can no longer allow a white nationalist to be in the White House,” he said, before saying he was the first governor to challenge Trump’s ban on immigration from certain Muslim countries, a lawsuit the state eventually won.
He also suggested Washington has pioneered reforms to criminal justice, effectively ending the death penalty, providing ways to erase some marijuana convictions and “banning the box” on initial application forms for many jobs that ask whether an applicant has been convicted of a crime.
Many of the candidates on the stage took a shot at Biden, who is currently leading in the polls. Inslee took his when the topic switched to his central issue, fighting climate change, and he got to answer first. Climate change isn’t a single issue, it’s about health, national security and economics, he said.
Biden’s middle of the road plan to combat climate change isn’t going to do the job, he added. When Biden objected it wasn’t a middle of the road plan, Inslee replied that the vice president’s plan was too slow to get the nation off coal and fossil fuels.
Harris later borrowed a standard Inslee line that the nation needs a president who believes in science not science fiction, and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker said that he and Inslee were the top-rated candidates by an environmental group for their plans to fight climate change.
But Booker is ranked second, and he’s ranked first, Inslee broke in and noted.
He also criticized Biden for voting to support President George W. Bush’s request to authorize military troops in Iraq. Inslee, who was in the House at the time, voted against the authorization.
“We need a president who can stand up against the drums of war,” Inslee said.
Biden admitted he made a bad judgment “trusting Bush” and turned against the effort when it turned to military “shock and awe.”
To qualify for the next round of debates in September, the Democratic National Committee is requiring that candidates have double the support needed for the June and July debates. That means at least 130,000 individual donors and a showing of at least 2% in four recognized polls, either in key early voting states or nationwide. The Inslee campaign has yet to poll above 1% in any of the accepted polls.
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