CNN
Now playing
03:41
Inslee presidential campaign built around climate change
ST. PAUL, MN - NOVEMBER 6:  Former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale concedes the election to his Republican opponent Norm Coleman November 6, 2002 in St. Paul, Minnesota. Mondale and Coleman were in a race for U.S. Senate that was too close to call the evening before.  (Photo by Mark Erickson/Getty Images)
Mark Erickson/Getty Images
ST. PAUL, MN - NOVEMBER 6: Former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale concedes the election to his Republican opponent Norm Coleman November 6, 2002 in St. Paul, Minnesota. Mondale and Coleman were in a race for U.S. Senate that was too close to call the evening before. (Photo by Mark Erickson/Getty Images)
Now playing
03:00
Walter Mondale dies at 93
george w bush congress immigration rhetoric cbs intv sot mxp vpx_00000000.png
george w bush congress immigration rhetoric cbs intv sot mxp vpx_00000000.png
Now playing
01:25
Bush calls on Congress to tone down 'harsh rhetoric' on immigration
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 23: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Constitutional and Common Sense Steps to Reduce Gun Violence" on March 23, 2021 in Washington, DC.  Many senators spoke both for and against gun control the day after a shooting in Boulder, Colorado where a gunman opened fire at a grocery store, killing ten people. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 23: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Constitutional and Common Sense Steps to Reduce Gun Violence" on March 23, 2021 in Washington, DC. Many senators spoke both for and against gun control the day after a shooting in Boulder, Colorado where a gunman opened fire at a grocery store, killing ten people. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Now playing
03:18
Berman on Cruz's latest tweet: 'The pot calling the kettle violent'
Now playing
01:57
Chuck Hagel criticizes Trump's statement on Afghanistan
gun laws shootings Comer pamela brown nr vpx _00015627.png
CNN
gun laws shootings Comer pamela brown nr vpx _00015627.png
Now playing
02:23
'I can't answer that': Kentucky lawmaker responds to CNN on gun policy
Now playing
02:39
National security adviser: Russia will face consequences if Navalny dies in prison
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) speaks during a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol on February 5, 2021 in Washington, DC. The House voted 230 to 199 on Friday evening to remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) from committee assignments over her remarks about QAnon and other conspiracy theories.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) speaks during a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol on February 5, 2021 in Washington, DC. The House voted 230 to 199 on Friday evening to remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) from committee assignments over her remarks about QAnon and other conspiracy theories.
Now playing
03:20
Marjorie Taylor Greene lashes out at media after backlash over controversial caucus
AP
Now playing
03:16
Maxine Waters: Jim Jordan is a bully and I shut him down
US Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, leaves her office on Capitol Hill on February 4, 2021 in Washington, DC.
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
US Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, leaves her office on Capitol Hill on February 4, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Now playing
03:51
Marjorie Taylor Greene launching 'America First' caucus
US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on Russia at the White House in Washington, DC on April 15, 2021. - The United States announced sanctions and the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats Thursday in retaliation for what Washington says is the Kremlin's US election interference, a massive cyberattack and other hostile activity.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on Russia at the White House in Washington, DC on April 15, 2021. - The United States announced sanctions and the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats Thursday in retaliation for what Washington says is the Kremlin's US election interference, a massive cyberattack and other hostile activity.
Now playing
02:22
White House backtracks on refugees decision after criticism
Biden speaks from the Treaty Room in the White House on April 14, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Andrew Harnik/Pool/Getty Images
Biden speaks from the Treaty Room in the White House on April 14, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Now playing
02:44
'National embarrassment': Biden reacts to mass shootings
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - APRIL 15:  Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) talks to talks to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a meeting with Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov in the Kremlin on April 15, 2013 in in Moscow, Russia. Karimov is on a state visit to Russia. (Photo by Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)
Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - APRIL 15: Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) talks to talks to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a meeting with Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov in the Kremlin on April 15, 2013 in in Moscow, Russia. Karimov is on a state visit to Russia. (Photo by Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:07
Russia to expel 10 US diplomats in 'tit-for-tat response' to Biden sanctions
Now playing
03:10
Avlon: Here's what we know 100 days since the Capitol riot
A Russian flag flies next to the US embassy building in Moscow on October 22, 2018. - US national security advisor John Bolton is in Moscow holding meetings with senior Russian officials following Washington's weekend announcement of withdrawal from the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, known as the INF. (Photo by Mladen ANTONOV / AFP)        (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP via Getty Images)
Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images
A Russian flag flies next to the US embassy building in Moscow on October 22, 2018. - US national security advisor John Bolton is in Moscow holding meetings with senior Russian officials following Washington's weekend announcement of withdrawal from the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, known as the INF. (Photo by Mladen ANTONOV / AFP) (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP via Getty Images)
Now playing
02:17
Political scientist: US-Russia relations are in the toilet
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 13: Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) speaks during a news conference on immigration to condemn the Trump Administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy, outside the US Capitol on June 13, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Toya Sarno Jordan/Getty Images)
Toya Sarno Jordan/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 13: Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) speaks during a news conference on immigration to condemn the Trump Administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy, outside the US Capitol on June 13, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Toya Sarno Jordan/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:39
Governor settles with former campaign staffer who accused her of sexual mistreatment
(CNN) —  

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has staked his 2020 campaign on climate change – and here, in America’s heartland, he looked to test whether the floodwaters of Iowa could prove to be fertile ground for his bid.

It’s a place that demonstrates how the Great Floods of 2019 – brought on by wild temperature swings bringing rapid snow melt and “bomb cyclone” rains in mid-March swelling the Missouri River and its tributaries – have set the worst kind of record.

Floodwaters topped with ice floes tore through farm country, ripping open silos full of last fall’s harvest and leaving entire towns like Hamburg under ice cold water.

The  baseball field in Hamburg lies under water.
Bill Weir/CNN
The baseball field in Hamburg lies under water.

But, as he led a disaster tour through the town where the utilities are shattered, toxic mold is spreading, and the baseball field is still submerged, Inslee finds as much opposition as support.

“We know, unfortunately, that what we see here today is just a precursor to many, many more intense floods in the future because of climate change,” Inslee tells a small gaggle of reporters. “It’s a scientific fact.”

The Washington State Governor is the first person to focus a presidential run on fighting the carbon-burning causes of a global climate in crisis. He shares his refrain with those around him: “We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change. And the last generation that can do anything to stop it.”

Gov. Jay Inslee talks with a resident of Hamburg as he campaigns for the Democratic nomination for President.
Bill Weir/CNN
Gov. Jay Inslee talks with a resident of Hamburg as he campaigns for the Democratic nomination for President.

Inslee sounded this alarm in 2002 when he called for a “a new Apollo project” to convert America to clean energy. Six years later, the Great Recession helped vaporize all hints of bipartisan climate action, including a “cap and trade” proposal to reduce heat-trapping pollution, favored by Republicans.

President Barack Obama opted to tackle the challenge with increased fuel efficiency standards and international agreements like the Paris Accord, among other initiatives. Still, the existential threat of a rapidly warming planet was discussed in 2016’s three presidential debates for a total of five minutes and 27 seconds.

Grain lies spoiling after its silo was broken in the flooding.
Julian Quiñones/CNN
Grain lies spoiling after its silo was broken in the flooding.

But, after years of ambivalence from voters putting the issue near the bottom of their priorities, recent polls show that Iowa Democrats list climate change next to health care as a top concern. In a packed field of 2020 candidates, Inslee is betting that his record, most recently as a governor who launched a Clean Energy Fund for his state, will gain new relevance with every unnatural disaster.

“This is very personal with me because I’ve got three grandkids and I know that their lives are going to be seriously degraded unless we elect a president this next go-round that understands the risk,” he says. “The forests I’ve hiked in for six decades are gonna be gone, because of the fire risk. We can’t grow baby oysters in Puget Sound right now because the water has become so acidic. I met a couple in New Hampshire whose daughter lost two years in college because of Lyme disease, which is increasing because of these bugs moving north. So this is personal and it’s real and it’s happening right now.”

With mold growing as the floodwaters subside, some workers are wearing masks to protect themselves.
Bill Weir/CNN
With mold growing as the floodwaters subside, some workers are wearing masks to protect themselves.

Under President Donald Trump, the government has revoked some policies that had partially addressed climate change and the President himself dismissed a study from his own administration warning of the potentially catastrophic impact of climate change because, he said, “I don’t believe it.” With such actions from the White House, climate hawks are hoping even skeptical Republicans will join the ranks of the alarmed.

But as his disaster tour of Hamburg brings him inside Risky Business Auto Repair, Inslee comes face to face with the climate change pushback.

“No, no, no!” says owner Ron Perry, when asked if he agrees that Hamburg’s flooding is a result of climate change. “I blame it totally on the Army Corps of Engineers. And so does everybody else around here.”

Gov. Inslee talks to Ron Perry, who rejects his call for addressing climate change to be America's priority.
Julian Quiñones/CNN
Gov. Inslee talks to Ron Perry, who rejects his call for addressing climate change to be America's priority.

The Corps is responsible for the federally maintained levees along the Missouri, many of which were breached this spring. But Inslee says that organization is not the root cause.

“You can’t expect the Army Corps to solve this problem if the President of the United States is telling them to ignore clear science,” Inslee responds. “Now, if Ron spent some time at the science lab at Hamburg High School, he would learn from the science teachers about what is going on here. Now, he’s busy taking care of cars, but people who are in public leadership positions have a responsibility to share scientific information with their citizens.”

At the local high school, where volunteers stand at folding tables brimming with donated food and clothing, longtime Hamburg resident Marilyn Gude also questions the Army Corps’ flood management, but says she worries for her grandchildren’s future. “I think we should be very aware that this is gonna happen (more often),” she says. “Because we are warming up and you see it all the time.”

Hamburg resident John Davis shows how high the water rose in this year's floods.
Bill Weir/CNN
Hamburg resident John Davis shows how high the water rose in this year's floods.

“I consider myself a climate refugee,” says John Davis, a former climate analyst who once worked for Al Gore and who is a Hamburg resident. After years of warning neighbors of a grim future, he says he is moving his 90-year-old mother to higher ground after the flood destroyed their home. He admits that “about zero” of his conservative neighbors would ever vote for a candidate like Inslee. When asked what it will take to convince them of the threats, he gestures to the flooded prairie. “About five of these. It worries me a lot because Gov. Inslee is the only person speaking up on climate of the 18 candidates and he needs to be on that (debate) stage in June, otherwise we will have absolutely no voice again.”

QUIZ: The most effective ways to curb climate change might surprise you

Inslee needs to earn at least 1% support in several polls or get 65,000 individual donors across 20 states to guarantee a spot in this summer’s crowded debates. “We got a ways to go,” he laughs, and acknowledges the setback that came last November when Washington State voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have taxed his state’s biggest emitters of carbon.

Flood-damaged belongings are piled on the streets of Hamburg as the town tries to clean up.
Bill Weir/CNN
Flood-damaged belongings are piled on the streets of Hamburg as the town tries to clean up.

“We were up against the biggest special interest in the world, that’s your oil and gas industry. They spent $32 million to try to deceive people about what was really in this initiative, OK?” he says. “That’s the bad news. The good news is it hasn’t daunted us at all. We built a $6 billion wind turbine industry. We have 50,000 electric cars. We’re spinning off businesses from my Clean Energy Fund and I have discovered that the most powerful and renewable fuel is perseverance.”