Progressive newcomer takes on fellow Democrat in Washington
SEATTLE (AP) — Sarah Smith thought her campaign to unseat longtime Rep. Adam Smith might receive a lot more attention after little-known Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez upset a 10-term incumbent in New York last summer. Like Ocasio-Cortez, Sarah Smith is a young woman, a political newcomer and a Bernie Sanders-supporting Democratic Socialist challenging an entrenched fellow Democrat.
It hasn’t quite worked out that way. While she continues campaigning hard through Election Day, Sarah Smith has raised only about one-tenth of what the incumbent has taken in. Her opponent has some coveted endorsements. And the national news media has paid scant attention to the race.
“After the Ocasio win, I expected to get reached out to more often,” Sarah Smith said. “This race is incredible. It’s a battle for a big, bold, progressive vision that’s going to fight back against war, fight for single-payer health care and prioritize people over corporations. ... It’s a new tide of politics versus the old guard of politics.”
In this 9th Congressional District race, though, the old guard is an 11-term incumbent who has already sponsored or co-sponsored legislation concerning many of the progressive causes Sarah Smith says she’d fight for. Adam Smith , 53, has pushed for single-payer universal health care, a $15 federal minimum wage, a carbon tax to fight climate change, and free tuition at public colleges for families making up to $125,000 — a program that would be paid for by taxing stock trades.
“Sarah should be running against somebody else,” the representative said during a recent debate. “Maybe she’d have a good argument against somebody who hasn’t done what I’ve done.”
The two Smiths, who are not related, advanced to the general election as Democrats after finishing in the top two positions in the August primary. Adam Smith collected 47 percent of the vote, while Sarah Smith’s 27 percent edged out Republican Doug Basler’s 25 percent. The district is economically and racially diverse — it’s the state’s only congressional district where minorities make up most of the population — and includes parts of Bellevue and South Seattle as well as Seattle’s south and eastern suburbs.
Adam Smith says one of his strengths has been listening to the district’s many minority communities and acting on their concerns, whether that’s meant ensuring that East African residents can continue using food stamps at grocery stores, trying to secure federal money for a project in Federal Way designed to prevent the displacement of refugee-owned businesses, or recruiting minority candidates for office.
As the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, he also stands to become the committee’s powerful chairman in the event Democrats regain control of the House. He says he’d use that position to slash spending on nuclear weapons, close bases and cut programs he considers wasteful, while pushing the Department of Defense to be more welcoming of transgender recruits and to become a bigger consumer of renewable energy.
It’s on national security issues that Sarah Smith launches some of her loudest criticism of the congressman. She has refused to accept donations from corporate political action committees, and she charges that Adam Smith’s receipt of money from those corporate interests, including defense contractors like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, color his views: “He’s been propped up by the military-industrial complex. They’re not giving him a bunch of war money to not go to war.”
She criticized his vote for the Iraq War — a vote he has said he regrets — and against an amendment that would have prohibited the sale of “cluster bombs” to Saudi Arabia.
Given the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, Adam Smith says the U.S. should not be selling any weapons to Saudi Arabia. At the time of the vote, though, he didn’t see reason to single out that type of weapon — which, he argues, were actually precision-guided and less dangerous to civilians than other types of bombs being dropped in Yemen.
Adam Smith is a proponent of public financing of elections — “I don’t think members of Congress should be professional fundraisers,” he says — and a critic of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, which allowed unlimited amounts of independent spending in campaigns.
But he said corporate PACs are allowed to give only limited amounts of money directly to campaigns and those donations don’t dictate his votes. He cited votes against continuing to build Northrop’s B-2 bomber and Lockheed’s F-22 fighter jet.
Adam Smith credits his challenger’s enthusiasm and attention to policy details. But he also criticizes her lack of prior political involvement.
“She doesn’t have a record of having worked on those issues or having worked in our community,” he said. “I’ve been working with a ton of people in our community.”
Sarah Smith says that’s largely a result of having entered the workforce around the time of the Great Recession, of having to struggle to make ends meet and being forced to move when she and her husband could no longer afford rent in South Seattle. She has continued working full-time during the campaign, waking up at 5 a.m. to perform tax law research for a consulting firm.
“Our lived experience matters,” she said. “Working-class people are worthy of representing working-class people exactly as they are.”