Sarah Smith, a 30-year-old Democratic socialist, will face off against 21-year incumbent Democrat Rep. Adam Smith in the November general election in Washington’s 9th Congressional District, which spans from southeast Seattle and Bellevue to Federal Way and Tacoma.
Early results in the Aug. 7 primary election gave Rep. Smith 50 percent of the vote, while Smith trailed Republican Doug Basler with 23.5 percent to his 26.2 percent. Conventional wisdom holds that ballots mailed in or filed in drop boxes trend liberal, and the notion held up in this race. By Aug. 10, Smith had overtaken Basler by about 2,600 votes, and her lead increased to almost 2,900 votes on Aug. 13. While the election results won’t be officially certified until next week, The Associated Press has called the race.
Sarah Smith, a former volunteer for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid, ran an insurgent campaign under the banner of the Brand New Congress Party—the same organization that backed Democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ successful campaign in New York City against incumbent Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley. Her platform includes a federal jobs guarantee, universal Medicare, and slashing military spending. She criticized the 53-year-old Rep. Smith for taking sizeable contributions from the defense industry and voting for the Iraq War. Rep. Smith has countered that he has been a reliable progressive who has delivered tangible results for his district, such as being an early supporter of the $15 minimum-wage campaign in SeaTac.
Rep. Smith’s primary criticism of Sarah Smith so far has been that she technically doesn’t live in the district and moved there only recently, whereas he was born there. Sarah Smith, for her part, regularly points out that her house is blocks away from the district boundary in Kent, and that she used to live in the district before her landlord sold the home she was renting.
In a phone interview, Smith said that she felt “really really good” about her second-place finish. “The fact that we’ve come this far is a testament to how hard we’ve worked,” she said. “I’m very optimistic and very excited.”
Smith added that her campaign has received a surge of support and volunteer interest after the primary, and that their list of active volunteers has grown to 100. “We had a huge outpouring of support, especially from the activist community,” she said. “A lot of our problem [was] that we did not have as much attention as we would have liked before the primary, but now we do.”
There are still significant resource disparities between the two campaigns: Sarah Smith has raised only roughly $60,000 while Congressman Smith has a war chest of almost $600,000.
Rep. Smith, who had 48.48 percent of the vote as of Aug. 13, said that he’s not troubled by the prospect of facing Smith in the general election. “I got nearly twice as many votes as anyone else in the race,” he said. “The bottom line is that I am a very passionate, hardworking, effective legislator for the people of this district.”
“[Sarah Smith] managed to get all of the Bernie people to come out and squeak her through a top-two primary system,” he added.
Sarah Smith claimed that she won over a significant number of Republicans and Libertarians who responded positively to elements of her platform, such as slashing defense spending and the federal jobs guarantee.
“I’ve had Republicans message me and say I was the first Democrat that they’d voted for because I actually talked about issues,” she said. Smith added that she thinks she can win over some of the roughly 35,000 people who voted for Republican Doug Basler in the primary.
In contrast, Rep. Smith argued that partisan Republicans will stay home in November and that conservative voters will vote for him over lefty Smith. “Since she’s running as a Democratic socialist, I think I’m going to get Republicans and independents,” he said.
Smith called the congressman’s comments “insulting” and “dismissive.” “I think that Adam was very dismissive about Republicans [by] saying that they’re not going to vote … I really don’t care for his dismissive attitude of the voters in this district.”
She added: “We have the shoes and the [campaign literature] and the door knocking capabilities and we’re ready for November.”