“The Republicans would have you believe that if you grow a middle class, it’ll hurt your economy; that if you believe in the power of immigration to be a positive thing in America rather than a negative thing, you’ll have a bad economy,” Inslee told an Iowa crowd in a speech just before we spoke. “Well, I’ll tell you what we have in Washington: We have a governor who was the very first governor to stand up against Donald Trump’s Muslim ban. We have a governor who has been the first to say we are welcoming Syrian refugees, we ought to do our part when we’re going to have so many climate refugees in the future. I’m a governor who was one of the first to make sure our Dreamers, who are some of the most inspiring people in our state, get a college education when they need it.”
Ahead of the second Democratic debates, scheduled for the end of July in Detroit, Inslee’s campaign is planning to roll out policy papers drawing on his record in Washington. Expect to hear him use versions of a line that he likes, about what he’s been able to get done in “the other Washington.” But don’t expect Inslee to move away from talking about climate change all the time, Jared Leopold, Inslee’s communications adviser, told me yesterday. Whatever other position papers may come, none will reflect the time and care that produced his 15,000-word climate-change plan released in May.
“Jay is a climate-first candidate. We’re making the point clearly that you can both prioritize and multitask,” Leopold said.
State Senator Rob Hogg of Iowa hosted Inslee for the event in the park, co-sponsored by the Sunrise Movement (the people behind the Green New Deal, which Inslee was an early backer of). Hogg told me he thinks the effects that people have already seen from climate change are the reason that primary voters, including those in the first caucus state—his—regularly list the environment as a top issue in polls. “All these issues are important,” he said. “Everything else is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.” Hogg said he’s seen that play out in real time in his district since the 2008 floods in Cedar Rapids, which displaced 10,000 people over 10 square miles and resulted in the sixth-largest federal-disaster declaration in history. “When all those people lost their homes, their businesses, and their churches, all those things they cared about before didn’t matter as much.”
Inslee himself tried to bring the threads together, appealing to Iowans, saying Trump is hitting them in two ways: not dealing with the climate change that’s killing their crops, and creating trade wars that make it harder to sell what they do grow.
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Last Friday, in a conference call ahead of the debate, Leopold did some very optimistic spinning, invoking Jimmy Carter as the model for the governor’s campaign. Carter, Leopold argued, was also a nationally unknown governor at 1 percent in the polls whose record of getting things done appealed to people, and who then went on to win the nomination and the White House.