Washington's Inslee puts climate change at centre of presidential bid

By Sharon Bernstein and Ginger Gibson
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Washington state Governor Inslee speaks during a news conference to announce his decision to seek the Democratic Party's nomination for president in 2020 at A&R Solar in Seattle

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee speaks during a news conference to announce his decision to seek the Democratic Party's nomination for president in 2020 at A&R Solar in Seattle, Washington, U.S., March 1, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

By Sharon Bernstein and Ginger Gibson

SEATTLE/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Washington Governor Jay Inslee launched a longshot bid for the U.S. presidency on Friday with a vow to fight climate change and promote policies to make the country more prosperous and inclusive.

Speaking in Seattle in the chilly garage of a solar energy company, Inslee became the first governor to join the crowded field of Democrats vying for the party's White House nomination in 2020, a race expected to be volatile and hard-fought as the winner faces off against Trump.

"I am running for president because, unlike the man who is in the White House, I believe in all the people who make up America," Inslee, who regularly swipes at Trump on Twitter, said to cheers.

The governor and former congressman has made fighting climate change the centrepiece of his campaign, saying on Friday that the effort will help improve both America's economy and health while also preserving the planet.

Inslee, 68, said he would not take funds from fossil fuel companies on the campaign trail or continue any subsidies to oil and gas industries if elected president.

He called for support of the so-called Green New Deal backed by progressive congressional Democrats, and said investing in renewable energy like solar and wind power had boosted the economy of Washington and would create millions of jobs nationwide.

Inslee's entrance into the race provoked a sharp response from Republicans. Michael Ahrens, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said in an email to Reuters that Inslee had "zero" chance of winning the presidency.

"His campaign will only force Democrats into embracing more extreme policies, like a carbon tax, which would kill jobs, raise energy prices and disproportionately hurt working-class Americans,” Ahrens said.

Although less known than rivals including U.S. senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris, Inslee has a strong following among environmentalists and will have financial support from a newly formed environmental political action committee.

Climate change did not register as a top issue for the general electorate in the 2018 congressional elections, but Democratic voters tend to cite it more often as being important to them.

Inslee spent 15 years in Congress before being elected governor in 2012. He won re-election to a second four-year term in 2016.

Inslee has made tackling global warming and protecting the environment a fixture of his administration, signing legislation to reduce his state's carbon emissions.

He also cites other progressive bonafides, including a 2014 move to put a moratorium on capital punishment and full implementation of the Affordable Care Act and accompanying expansion of Medicaid health coverage for the poor.

He most recently served as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, a role that helped expand donors' awareness of him as he campaigned around the country on behalf of other candidates.

He hopes his long congressional voting record will bolster his candidacy, but it could also provide fuel for his opponents.

His term in the U.S. House of Representatives was interrupted when he was defeated in 1994 after two years in office, a loss he attributed to his support of the assault weapons ban that Republicans used in their campaign to oust Democrats from power that year.

He was elected again in 1999 and used his time in the House to position himself as a moderate and member of the pro-business New Democrat Coalition.

He was considered an ally of companies from his state, including Boeing Co, Microsoft Corp and Amazon.com Inc, and cast votes viewed as pro-business.

He voted against the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the 2008 Wall Street bailout known as TARP. In 2010, he voted in favour of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

(Reporting by Ginger Gibson in Washington and Sharon Bernstein in Seattle; editing by Colleen Jenkins, Lisa Shumaker and Tom Brown)