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April 21, 2019

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Washington governor speaking in North Las Vegas as presidential exploration continues

Jay Inslee

Ted S. Warren / AP

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks at a news conference, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, in Seattle.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee plans a political trip to Nevada on Saturday as he continues to explore a possible 2020 run for president.

Inslee is scheduled to give a keynote address at the annual summit of a progressive group called Battle Born Progress, at the College of Southern Nevada's North Las Vegas campus. Others speaking at the event include Nevada Democrats Sen. Jacky Rosen and Rep. Suzie Lee.

Kait Krolik, a spokeswoman for Battle Born Progress, said the conference typically draws 150 to 200 people.

Nevada will play a significant role in winnowing the Democratic presidential-contender field; the state is set to hold its 2020 caucuses Feb. 22, a few weeks after the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

Despite some inaccurate national-media reports, Inslee has not declared he will run for president, even if he has been behaving like a national candidate. In addition to the Nevada visit, he plans a trip to New Hampshire later this month.

Inslee has flirted with his 2020 options for more than a year, spending much of 2018 jetting around the country as chair of the Democratic Governors Association. In that role he helped Democrats flip seven governorships from Republican control, including Nevada, which elected Steve Sisolak.

He has more recently set up a federal political-action committee, called Vision PAC, to raise money to pay for political expenses, including travel to early primary and caucus states. The PAC reported $112,500 in donations as of early December.

Republicans have criticized Inslee's ambitions, saying he's been focused on national politics and bashing President Donald Trump, instead of governing Washington state.

While the governor's political travel is covered by private campaign funds, taxpayers have continued to pay for his State Patrol security detail that accompanies him on out-of-state trips. In the last fiscal year, the security detail overshot its $2.6 million budget by $400,000, mainly because of overtime and travel.

Four Republican state lawmakers have proposed legislation, House Bill 1021, that would cut the governor's office budget to pay for the security shortfall and push for all-private funding of future trips.

Inslee's scheduled Nevada trip comes just ahead of the Washington Legislature convening next week for its 2019 session. Inslee plans to return to Washington on Saturday.

Still relatively unknown nationally, the second-term Democratic governor has received some buzz in recent weeks, giving a series of national-media interviews to lay out what a climate-centered presidential campaign might look like. He's also made news with announcements of plans to pardon some minor marijuana convictions and enact a public-option health insurance plan for Washington.

But Inslee, so far, has barely registered in early national polls, which have favored better-known potential candidates, including former Vice President Joe Biden, former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, California Sen. Kamala Harris and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Responding to skeptical questions from MSNBC host Joy Reid over the weekend, Inslee said he's confident he can attract support, especially from young voters concerned with the devastating impact predicted from climate change.

"I believe the only hope for America is to nominate a Democratic governor who will make climate change the paramount issue in this race ..." he said.