Washington state Governor Jay Inslee is the latest entrant in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination (Karen Ducey)

Washington (AFP) – Washington state Governor Jay Inslee joined a crowded field on Friday of candidates seeking the Democratic White House nomination, saying he would make climate change the central theme of his campaign.

The 68-year-old Inslee is the first governor of a US state to join the race to take on Republican Donald Trump — a well-known climate skeptic —  in November 2020.

“Our country’s next mission must be to rise up to the most urgent challenge of our time: defeating climate change,” Inslee said in a video announcing his candidacy.

Inslee, a former member of the US House of Representatives who was elected governor in 2012 and re-elected in 2016, said he is “the only candidate who will make defeating climate change our nation’s number one priority.”

A national survey carried out last year for Yale and George Mason universities found that increasing numbers of Americans believe global warming is happening.

Seventy-three percent of those polled by Ipsos said they think global warming is occurring, up 10 percentage points from three years earlier.

But there is a big partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans over the issue and Trump — who withdrew the United States from the Paris climate accord shortly after taking office — rarely misses a chance to voice his skepticism.

When Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar announced recently that she was seeking the Democratic nomination, Trump mocked her on Twitter for “talking proudly of fighting global warming while standing in a virtual blizzard of snow, ice and freezing temperatures.”

With much of the country gripped by a cold spell in January, Trump tweeted “wouldn’t be bad to have a little of that good old fashioned Global Warming right now!”

Inslee, a native of Seattle, home to Amazon and Microsoft, compared the fight against climate change to the 1960s challenge of president John F. Kennedy to send a man to the moon.

“We’re the first generation to feel the sting of climate change and we’re the last that can do something about it,” he said. “We went to the moon and created technologies that have changed the world.

“This crisis isn’t just a chart or a graph anymore,” he said. “The impacts are being felt everywhere.”

– Crowded field –

Other Democratic candidates for the White House have emphasized climate change in their platforms but Inslee is the only one so far to make it the main theme of his campaign.

All six US Democratic senators who are vying for the nomination received a perfect score last year from the League of Conservation Voters when it came to voting on environmental issues, The Washington Post reported.

Like the six senators, Inslee has also voiced support for the “Green New Deal,” a plan introduced by Democrats in Congress to combat climate change while stimulating the economy.

Inslee has been an outspoken critic of Trump, joining the governors of other Democratic-controlled US states in lawsuits challenging some of the president’s policies such as his travel ban on immigrants from mainly Muslim nations.

A liberal Democrat, Inslee is popular in his northwestern state but he does not yet have the national profile of some of the other White House hopefuls in the large and diverse Democratic field.

Among those who have announced bids to become the Democratic nominee are US senators Bernie Sanders, 77, Kamala Harris, 54, Elizabeth Warren, 69, Cory Booker, 49, Amy Klobuchar, 58, and Kirsten Gillibrand, 52.

Also running are Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, 37, of Hawaii, Obama-era housing secretary Julian Castro, 44, of Texas and South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg, 37, who would be the first openly gay nominee of a major party.

And several other potential candidates are waiting in the wings, including former vice president Joe Biden, 76, former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, 46, and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, 66.

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