As the curtain opens on the 2020 presidential campaign two big names from Washington state are considering whether to jump in.
And they would bring two very different backgrounds to the campaign.
Jay Inslee is in his second term as Washington governor. Before that, he served a total of 16 years in Congress representing the 4th district in eastern Washington, then the 1st district in the Puget Sound region.
Howard Schultz led the Starbucks Coffee chain to international prominence. He offered health and college benefits to employees. He stepped down after a total of 24 years in leadership.
Inslee spent most of this year as president of the National Democratic Governors Association. It’s a job that involves campaign trips to the first presidential primary state, New Hampshire, and the first presidential caucus state, Iowa.
Inslee spoke in Iowa just before the midterm elections.
“We know that at the moment we are the only party that provides hope for Iowa or Washington or the United States, or for that matter the world,” Inslee told a Democratic crowd.
Schultz has often expressed disgust for political division. He once asked the public not to donate to Democrats or Republicans until they broke the gridlock.
In 2011, he joined a non-partisan group calling itself “No Labels.”
“Whether you are somebody who works for a company or running a company it doesn’t matter what your station in life is–you are an American, you have a voice,” Schultz said on a TV program produced by the group.
We asked two local experts for hard-nosed analysis of the presidential prospects of both men.
Ron Dotzauer is a Democratic strategist with decades of campaign experience in Washington State.
UW professor Stuart Streichler is a lawyer and political scientist who worked on the Al Gore and Barack Obama campaigns.
“I think Jay Inslee has positioned himself to be a top five candidate,” Streichler said. He said that’s because Inslee is a governor and historically, governors have more success than others convincing voters they have what it takes to be president.
“You have senator’s certainly, but then governors are very important. There aren’t that many Democratic governors these days and I think he’s in a good position to be the top governor, perhaps,” Streichler said.
Dotzauer adds, “Governor Inslee has a platform because he’s head of the Democratic Governors Association, he has been a former member of Congress and he’s a second term as governor and he’s written a book on energy and the environment.”
On the other hand, Schultz is a successful businessman worth almost $3 billion.
“There’s no question of financing the campaign, I think, with the multibillionaires. But whether they can connect with the voters who count, whether they have the willingness to put up with what you have to do as a presidential candidate is not like being in an executive suite, I think that’s what’s going to be interesting,” Streichler said.
Our experts say Donald Trump’s performance as president will also influence the way voters look at Inslee and Schultz.
Inslee has taken a high profile as the opponent of the president, even confronting him at the White House.
“I just suggest we need a little less tweeting here, a little more listening,” Inslee once told a Trump at a televised White House meeting.
Like Trump, Schultz is a businessman who’s never run for office before. And that could hurt him.
“Many voters and perhaps even [at the] subconscious level will say we’re looking for something different than what we just had because that didn’t work. And one of the things would be that Trump has trumpeted himself as a business man and he had this experience, which he could carry over into government,” Streichler said.
In his home state of Washington, Schultz’s history as the man who sold the Seattle Sonics basketball team to Oklahoma would count against him in both the primary and general elections.
“I’m not sure he could carry his own state,” Dotzauer said. “People have not forgiven or forgotten the Sonics and his ownership in the debacle that he created in selling that team.”
Inslee will likely have trouble explaining the continuing troubles at Western State Mental Hospital, which lost federal funding, and the massive tax break that Boeing demanded to keep major production facilities in the state, but that still allows the company to move jobs out.
So, could either candidate pull it off?
Responded Streichler: “I think that Howard Schultz, I think that the type of a business person following Donald Trump it’s, in my view, I just would think that’s just not going to happen. I think Jay Inslee has a good shot.”
But Dotzauer noted that “Having two people potential candidates from Washington State also makes it a bigger challenge.”
New documents first revealed by Northwest News Network and the Seattle Times show that a new political action committee has been set up to support Inslee.
A spokesman says Inslee will decide by the end of the legislative sessions in April whether to jump into the 2020 presidential race.