Gov. Jay Inslee on Saturday endorsed Attorney General Bob Ferguson in next year’s race for governor, handpicking him early — from a competitive Democratic field — as his chosen successor.

Ferguson had put aside his gubernatorial ambitions four years ago after Inslee said he would be the first Washington governor in nearly half a century to seek a third term.

Inslee returned the favor Saturday as Ferguson “officially” launched his campaign, with events in Seattle, Pasco and Spokane and endorsements from high-profile Democratic officials.

“I want to say that I don’t do this lightly,” Inslee said at Washington Hall in Seattle’s Central District, throwing his support behind Ferguson nearly a year before voters will weigh in. “To endorse a position that I’ve been able to hold with immense honor for the past decade … is a big deal to me and my grandchildren.”

“He runs such an incredible attorney general’s office,” Inslee continued. “… He has led the nation over and over again, and other attorneys general have looked to him over and over again.”

With his campaign launch, Ferguson removed any doubt (there wasn’t any) that he is running for governor in 2024.

Ferguson announced an “exploratory campaign” in May. Since then, he has been busy raising money and, his campaign said, visiting all 39 counties to speak with and hear from voters.

There is no distinction in state law between a campaign and an exploratory campaign.

A three-term Democratic attorney general and former Metropolitan King County Council member, Ferguson is perhaps best known for battling the Trump administration, often successfully, over issues such as immigration, environmental protection and abortion rights. By his own count, he filed 97 lawsuits against the federal government during Trump’s four years in office, winning 39 and losing just two.

He sued in the earliest days of Trump’s presidency to stop the so-called travel ban on people from predominantly Muslim countries. He sued to block military funds from being used for a border wall. He filed dozens of environmental lawsuits. He sued to keep in place DACA, the federal program that allows undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as young children to live and work here.

More recently, Washington banned the sale of AR-15s and other semi-automatic rifles earlier this year, nearly seven years after Ferguson first proposed doing so.

Inslee opted for Ferguson over two other established Democrats seeking the governor’s office: Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz and state Sen. Mark Mullet.

Mullet, on Friday, wrote that Ferguson would be “more of the same.”

“I respect Gov. Inslee,” Mullet wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “But over the years we’ve had some serious differences in vision for our state. WA has some of the highest home & gas prices, and we’ve added a new payroll tax. I believe these have led to an affordability crisis.”

In a statement on Saturday, Franz wrote: “Anything I’ve ever done, whether it was running for city council or state lands commissioner or my law career, I’ve been told to sit quietly, wait my turn, and let the men ahead of me have theirs.”

“Never stopped me,” she added.

On the Republican side, former U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert and Semi Bird, a former Richland School Board member who was recently recalled by voters, have announced gubernatorial campaigns.

Former Gov. Chris Gregoire, U.S. Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Suzan DelBene, and King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay also spoke in support of Ferguson on Saturday.

In addition to the endorsements, Ferguson has opened a significant, early fundraising lead, raising more than $3.8 million, including more than $1.2 million from past fundraising that he transferred to his gubernatorial account.

Ferguson’s fundraising total is more than double the amount raised by every other declared candidate in the field combined.