SEATTLE — Since Gov. Jay Inslee won reelection to a third term in 2020, his campaign operation has not wound down, or even hibernated.
He has continued to send out regular, urgent-sounding fundraising pitches for a potential fourth-term bid in two years.
The usual refrain goes something like: Friends, please rush me money by this month’s deadline or a VERY BAD THING will happen (because of Republicans)!
Such appeals have pulled in more than $600,000 from donors since last year for Inslee’s officially registered 2024 reelection campaign committee, according to Public Disclosure Commission filings. Adding in surplus funds from his last campaign, Inslee’s reelection campaign already has raised roughly $1.5 million.
That does not mean that Inslee, 71, will actually seek an unprecedented fourth term as governor. Still, he is not ruling it out.
Aisling Kerins, Inslee’s campaign consultant, said in an email the governor “is focused on protecting our pro-choice majorities and preparing for the next legislative session and hasn’t made any decisions about 2024 yet.”
No Washington governor has been elected to four terms, and some Democrats are skeptical Inslee will try to be the first.
“Only Jay can answer that question, but I would put it in the highly unlikely category,” said Ron Dotzauer, a veteran Democratic political consultant who heads the public affairs and lobbying firm Strategies 360.
“Continuing to raise money is not a signal you are going to run,” Dotzauer added, noting that politicians of all stripes like to keep campaign operations rolling to show they are still viable and keep options open.
“I don’t know what he is thinking,” said Seferiana Day, a Democratic political strategist and partner with the Seattle consulting firm Upper Left Strategies. But she said Inslee could move on with a significant record of accomplishments on issues including climate change and protecting abortion access.
“If he wants to step away at three terms, that’d be great,” said Day, noting an Inslee decision to forgo reelection would create a “domino effect” of political opportunities for a diverse set of candidates up and down the ballot.
“I think there is an opportunity for new leadership to step in,” Day said.
In a state with no term limits, Inslee’s lengthy tenure as governor has stalled ambitions for other Democrats who have openly eyed the position, including Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz and King County Executive Dow Constantine.
All three had expressed interest in running for governor in 2020, but stood down when Inslee decided to seek a third term after his failed bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
An open gubernatorial seat would also give Republicans a chance at fielding a candidate without an incumbent in the office, which has remained in Democratic control since 1985.
For now, as he keeps his options open, Inslee’s fundraising appeals are churned out regularly, using crisis lingo common to the genre.
On July 22, he asked people to chip in $10 “to enshrine abortion rights” in the state. On Aug. 31, he pleaded for 182 more donors to give, “to stop future climate disasters” by keeping the state in Democratic control.
It’s not clear how donations dedicated to a reelection campaign that may never happen would impact such issues, as much of the money raised by the governor’s reelection campaign in a typical month goes to keep his campaign fundraising operation churning.
Inslee also has used his massive fundraising list to raise cash for Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, who is running for Congress in Southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District.
In an email to donors last month, Inslee described Joe Kent, the Donald Trump-backed Republican challenger who ousted U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in the primary, as “one of the most extreme candidates” in the country. The email asked for donations that would be split between Inslee’s campaign and Gluesenkamp Perez’s.
Despite the consistent pleas, Inslee’s fundraising pace has not been too rapid lately.
In his most recent PDC summary report, covering the month of August, he raised about $15,200, while spending $29,200, leaving a cash balance of $28,700. (He also has $325,000 in a surplus funds account, money that he could transfer back to a reelection campaign.)
A major chunk of Inslee’s monthly campaign spending goes to pay his consultant, Kerins, and longtime fundraiser Tracy Newman, who each receive about $8,000 a month — $160,000 apiece since last year, according to PDC reports.
Inslee also has paid the state House Democratic Campaign Committee $18,000 for polling this year.
Early last year, Inslee’s campaign spent $138,000 on digital ads, including one touting his “bold climate agenda,” according to a copy of the ad supplied by Kerins.
The governor signed into law that year major packages of climate legislation passed by the Democratic-majority Legislature, including a cap on carbon emissions and a clean-fuels standard.
“Support for the governor is often because of his leadership fighting climate change, so no surprise we feature his commitment to continuing to make progress in our communications with supporters,” Kerins said.
Inslee this week is traveling abroad on a 10-day trade mission to Finland, Sweden, and Norway, as part of a 45-person delegation of Washington business, education and government leaders. The trip is paid for by a mix of private sponsors, funds budgeted by the Legislature for the Finland portion of the trip, and fees paid by the delegates joining the mission, according to Inslee spokesperson Jaime Smith.
After the trade mission, Inslee will be taking a personal vacation in Europe with his wife, Trudi, and will return to the state Sept. 30, according to the governor’s office. They’ll pay the costs associated with the personal travel, Smith said. While Inslee is out of the country, Lt. Gov. Denny Heck will be acting governor.
Recent history — and the rhythm of political cycles — suggests Inslee may not let his reelection plans be known until after the next session of the Legislature, a 105-day budget-writing session set to convene in early January and run until March.
Chris Gregoire, Inslee’s predecessor as governor, bowed out at roughly that time in June 2011, after two terms in office.