What Didn’t Work: Jay Inslee, Seth Moulton Withdraw

The great winnowing has begun.

With the August 28 qualification deadline for the September debate fast approaching, we’re starting to see several candidates deal with the stark reality that they simply have no hope of winning this primary. Even if you can find a way to break out in the race outside the debate, missing it makes it very hard to convince your top donors to keep investing.

On Wednesday evening, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee called it quits, deciding instead to run for reelection. Congressman Seth Moulton bowed out this morning, saying the race had boiled down to a contest between Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. He warned the party against picking a candidate too far to the left.

Since we’re likely to see more exits here soon, I’ll probably be combining a few “What Didn’t Work” pieces together.

With Inslee, let’s actually start with what he did well.

For starters, Inslee was very smart to center his candidacy solely around climate change. It helped him stand out in a crowded field and gave his run purpose. It was hard for anyone to be angry at yet another candidate in the race when that person was trying to champion action on climate change.

Most importantly, it gave him an early pool of activists to help him in the early states. With this many candidates, there are some contenders that have barely any volunteers at all in Iowa.

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As the recent chair of the Democratic Governors Association, Inslee also had good fundraising ties, bringing in $3.1 million in the second quarter, a respectable amount that you could do something with.

And he actually did rather well on the stump, typically giving one of the stronger speeches that turned heads at Iowa’s multi-candidate gatherings this year. He also got a decent amount of attention from his debate performances. Getting the 130,000 donor number for the debates was an impressive accomplishment, as well, given the other difficulties.

Unforuntately for Inslee, it was difficult to make any of that newfound attention last on any voters’ mind with so many other candidates running. To most, he was another little-known white man in the indecipherable mix of a 20+ person field.

I don’t know what his travel schedule in the other early states looked like, but his visits to Iowa were rather limited. He never spent more than two days at a time in the lead-off caucus state, which hampered any ability to build up a real base of support here. Given that early state polls could help a candidate make the debate stage, that may have been a mistake. And if you have at least some funds, why not plow it into some TV ads in the early states to get that polling up? Then again, without national media buzz, it’s hard to do much on the ground anywhere.

Inslee was one of those candidates I wish we had more time to cover and get to know this year, but the few days in Iowa and massive field of candidates hampered that. I’m particularly frustrated we weren’t able to put funds together for a climate change reporter earlier this year, which could have done some great deep-dives into Inslee’s policies. Hopefully we see him again as he continues his advocacy on climate change, or to help out another Democratic gubernatorial nominee here like he did last year.

Moulton’s problems were a more straight-forward situation: he was too little-known for a national run and Pete Buttigieg wiped out his two major advantages. Once another contender took over the youth and veteran lane of the primary, Moulton really had nowhere to go. It’s hard to position yourself as the “New Generation” candidate when an even-younger rival is dominating that appeal.

He also spent little time in Iowa, though his focus on neighbor-state New Hampshire didn’t really make much progress, either. Moulton never made the first two debate nights, killing any chance he had of getting voters to take him into consideration.


by Pat Rynard
Inslee photo by Julie Fleming
Posted 8/23/19

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