Washington (AFP) - Washington Governor Jay Inslee dropped out of the race for the Democratic party's 2020 presidential nomination on Wednesday, thinning the crowded field to 22.
"It's become clear that I'm not gonna be carrying the ball, I'm not gonna be the president, so I'm withdrawing tonight from the race," Inslee told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow.
Inslee -- who was polling less than one percent, according to an aggregate of recent surveys -- built his campaign around the issue of tackling climate change, and he returned to the same theme even as he announced his exit from the race.
"We started saying that climate change had to be the number one job of the United States. I felt very good saying that the first days of my campaign; I feel very good saying that now," Inslee said.
"I've been fighting climate change for 25 years, and I've never been so confident of the ability of America now to reach critical mass to move the ball. I believe we are going to have a candidate to fight this battle," he said.
Inslee declined to endorse a specific candidate now, saying that he will be backing the eventual Democratic nominee.
US voters have have rarely considered climate change a top-priority presidential election issue, but that is changing. An April CNN poll labeled it as the single most important issue to Democratic primary voters, topping health care.
As a candidate, Inslee introduced a sweeping and sophisticated climate mission, which popular liberal congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez praised as the "gold standard."
It called for zero carbon emissions across the economy within the next quarter century, including 100 percent carbon-neutral electricity and zero-emission new cars and buses by 2030.
The plan would have required a staggering $9 trillion in investment and created eight million jobs. It would also likely have encountered fierce resistance from the fossil fuel industry, and from many Republicans in Congress who oppose such drastic steps.
Inslee, who himself drives an electric car and wants to end the use of coal, hammered away on the issue, using much of his speaking time at the Democratic debates to address climate change.
And that likely inspired leading Democratic candidates to release their own ambitious climate plans.
"I think we started kind of an arms race of candidates, to see who can raise their ambition level, and that's helped them become more ambitious," Inslee said Wednesday.
"I think that we've now advanced the dialogue," he said.