OLYMPIA — As Gov. Jay Inslee prepared to launch his campaign for president earlier this year, he had a request of three fellow Democrats he knew to be interested in his job.
Inslee hoped Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz and King County Executive Dow Constantine could hold off awhile, maybe until the fall, to make their intentions known regarding the 2020 race for governor.
See, even as Inslee mounted a full-out run for the White House, he hadn’t written off the idea of serving four more years in the executive mansion — at least not publicly — if his presidential bid flamed out.
He sought a bit of time to evaluate options. They are giving it to him.
It was the polite thing to do.
And it was the pragmatic thing to do.
If Inslee seeks a third term, none of them would challenge him. Conventional wisdom is none of them could beat him in the primary. While Constantine could try without the risk of losing his office, Ferguson and Franz would be giving up almost certain re-election if they tested their luck.
But with each passing day, such politeness and patience may not prove to be the shrewdest political thing for each of them to have done.
Campaigns for governor are all-engaging and ever-increasing in cost. The longer one waits to learn if the seat will be open, the less time one has to make a case with potential voters.
This may be less of a deal for Ferguson as he’s the best known of the bunch. Constantine and Franz can ill afford to let too many more weeks go without a resolution.
If Inslee steps aside and they all get in the race, the August 2020 primary will be the decisive event. Only one will emerge — presuming a Republican of some stature runs and pulls enough GOP votes to finish in the top two. Which ever Democratic candidate makes it through will be heavily favored to win next November. The Democratic Party hasn’t lost a race for this office since 1980.
It is valid to argue that few are paying attention right now to this race. Making the trio wait a little bit, until say after the first debate of Democratic presidential candidates later this month, or even until early fall, will matter little in how each ultimately fares.
And yes, Franz, Ferguson, and Constantine are actively raising money and gathering support for their political endeavors.
But as they do it, they are kind of carrying out a con that everyone is in on.
They’re soliciting contributions for campaigns they hope not to run. And many of those donors are giving with a thought that their money will support a campaign that has yet to be announced.
Eight years ago, everyone was waiting on then Gov. Chris Gregoire to announce if she would seek a third term. She said no on June 13, 2011. Inslee entered the race 10 days later. By then, Rob McKenna, the Republican attorney general at the time, had already announced his entrance.
Inslee won by 3 percentage points. One can only guess if the margin would have been the same had the governor not entered the race until months later.
Time is a valuable component of a campaign.
Inslee could do his fellow Democrats a favor by not making them waste much more awaiting his decision on a third term.