Despite winning election to Congress eight times, U.S. Rep. Adam Smith is treading new ground in his defense of Washington’s 9th Congressional District seat this year.
The incumbent Democrat faces radically altered home terrain – both physically and politically. Redrawn boundaries now make the 9th the state’s first minority-majority congressional district, shifting to the north what traditionally had been an area that traversed parts of south King, west Pierce and north Thurston Counties.
Smith also faces four primary challengers whose ideologies span a wide political spectrum: LaRouche Democrat Dave Christie; progressive Democrat Tom Cramer, libertarian Republican John Orlinski and conservative Republican Jim Postma.
Smith and Orlinski are the only challengers who now live in the district. Election law only requires congressional candidates to reside in the state.
The field of five squares off in a new 9th composed mostly of King County precincts, dipping into Pierce County only so far as to include Smith’s neighborhood of Northeast Tacoma.
Newly folded into the district are Bellevue, Mercer Island and a big chunk of Seattle, including its base of black, Hispanic and Asian American voters in the city’s south and central neighborhoods. Lost was Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the promilitary suburbs surrounding it that now fall into the new 10th District.
Redistricting also has pushed the 9th decidedly left. Based on three recent key elections, 61 percent of voters in the newly drawn district backed Democrats. That makes the 9th the second most Democrat-leaning congressional district in Washington.
Several pundits predict Smith, who holds huge money and name recognition advantages, likely will coast to re-election.
“The question is, as his district changes how does his behavior change?” asked Todd Donovan, a Western Washington University political science professor. “My hunch is he will probably change a little bit to reflect the district. And a little bit would probably be enough.”
The top two vote-getters on Aug. 7 will advance to November’s general election.
Here’s a look at the field:
Smith, 47, an attorney who grew up near SeaTac, has held public office continually since 1991. It was then, at age 25, that Smith was elected to the state senate. He served in Olympia until winning a congressional seat in 1996.
Smith has stayed there ever since, usually coasting to re-election in landslide fashion. The 2010 election has so far proven to be Smith’s closest race, but he still beat Republican Dick Muri by almost 10 points.
Smith counts as his most recent accomplishments supporting universal access to health care and “representing people on relatively small issues.”
“I’m also proud of what I’ve done with military members and their families,” said Smith, who ranks as his party’s top member on the House Armed Services Committee.
As of the last campaign finance reporting period in March, Smith had raised just more than $701,000, with more than $503,000 cash on hand.
Other than Postma, who had about $53,000 carrying over form his 2010 campaign, no other candidate has raised more than $3,500, records show.
About 60 percent of Smith’s campaign contributions come from political action committees, mostly defense companies, such as Boeing. But Smith maintains he’s free of undue influence.
“My first vote in Congress was to kill the B-2 bomber – a project that Boeing badly wanted,” he said. “I am the strongest voice saying the defense budget cannot be exempt from cutting.”
Smith said he supports President Barack Obama’s current plan to cut defense spending, but when asked, he acknowledged he also has voted to increase it in the past.
Still, Smith defends his politics as progressive, pointing to his opposition to tax cuts and support for same-sex marriage.
He contends his experience sets him apart from the field.
“I clearly have the strongest record of representation,” he said. “No one in this race even comes close. The other four people have an ideology. I have a record of delivery.”
For nine years, Christie, 35, has been a full-time organizer for fringe political activist and eight time presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche.
As one of five candidates on LaRouchePAC’s national slate, Christie advocates for impeaching President Barack Obama for various reasons – from putting America at war without congressional consent, to approving the assassination of foreign leaders.
“If people think we’re extreme, I would say that I think Obama is extreme and George W. Bush is extreme,” Christie said. “I’m a Democrat. I fought for the impeachment of Dick Cheney, and I don’t want Mitt Romney in office. But I also want to get Obama out now, so that we can elect a real candidate at this summer’s national convention.”
Among other ideas, Christie calls for restoring the federal Glass-Steagall Act to separate investment and commercial banking. He criticizes the Obama administration for opposing a bipartisan measure to restore the act, which he and other supporters contend will improve banking industry oversight and reduce using government financing on speculative projects.
Christie casts the linchpin of his campaign – The North American Water and Power Alliance – as a modern-era New Deal that would turn around the economy, create millions of jobs and end the need for hopeless government bailouts.
Known as NAWAPA, the venture – conceived by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1950s – would involve hundreds of construction and hydro-electric projects to divert river flows in Alaska and Canada to the United States and Mexico, creating more water sources and electricity.
“I have a competent program that will get us out of this crisis and create 6 million jobs,” Christie said. “That’s why people should vote for me.”
For the past eight years, Cramer, 64, a retired assistant college dean, rehabilitation program director and small-business owner, has run the Democratic Advancement PAC – a national political action committee that seeks to help elect progressive Democrats.
Beneficiaries of his PAC – which Cramer started with his son in Seattle eight years ago – are candidates who reflect the same values upon which he’s now campaigning: They’re 100 percent pro-choice, they support same-sex marriage and universal health care, and they oppose the Patriot Act, Iraq War and death penalty.
Cramer contends his politics make him a better fit for the new 9th District than the incumbent.
“He’s a conservative Democrat and he has to run in a district that is not a toss-up district anymore but a solid liberal district,” Cramer said.
Cramer favors “ending tax loopholes for the very rich,” and implementing tax breaks to middle-class taxpayers as a way to stimulate the economy.
“In this new 9th District, there are almost zero federal jobs,” he added. “I want to bring in a new federal agency to start building jobs.”
Cramer, whose daughter-in-law is a Cambodian, favors Dream Act and other more open immigration reforms.
“My suggestion is to open immigration,” he said. “If middle-class people have a 10 percent tax, they can get a path to citizenship.”
A Redmond resident who lives just outside the district, Cramer has twice run for Congress – once in Illinois and once in Washington. During his bid for the 8th District seat in 2010, he ran third with 9.5 percent in a field of nine in the primary.
Orlinski, 56, a state social worker, views himself as an “independent Republican” who supports a majority of Ron Paul’s political ideologies.
“I’m fighting for a smaller government, a balanced budget and more social liberties and freedoms for all of us,” he said. “I want to see a federal government focused on the core values – protecting the borders, providing a military and security of the country.”
Orlinski, who ran as a Democrat in the 8th District in 2010, supports scaling back the federal Education and State departments and would seek to eliminate “cronyism and corporate bailouts” in government dealings.
He also counts as top issues ending the war in Afghanistan, immigration reform and putting an end to the so-called Bush tax breaks that favor wealthy Americans.
His plan for reducing the national debt would involve raising taxes, but he supports tax breaks for middle- and lower-income taxpayers.
Orlinski, who lives in south Bellevue, has served on the Lake Washington Technical College Board of Directors for 10 years, but has never held public office. He ran for the 8th District seat in 2010, but failed to make it out of the primary and received less than 2 percent of the vote.
Orlinski has committed to not soliciting campaign donations during the primary.
A Polish immigrant, Orlinski lived for a time with his wife and first-born son in an Austrian refugee camp before gaining refugee status and coming to the United States in 1984. He hopes his immigrant roots will appeal to the district’s minority voters, but also realizes his campaign faces an uphill battle.
“As a guy with a Polish last name who’s not raising money, I don’t know if I can win anything,” he said. “But we’ll see.”
In his third bid for the 9th District seat, Postma, 77, a retired Boeing contractor and rocket engineer, believes the district’s new boundaries only improve his chances. In 2008, Postma won nearly 35 percent of the general election vote, and took nearly 20 percent in the 2010 primary.
“The new part of the district – Bellevue, Mercer Island and Seattle – they don’t know Adam Smith any more than they know me,” he said. “It’s a level playing field.”
Postma, who noted his first wife was Japanese and three of his children are Asian American, dismisses the notion the new minority-majority district will tilt liberal.
“I have strong ties with minorities and in my experience, I’ve found many of them to be conservative in their personal, religious and economic lives,” he said. “I think the reason they don’t vote for Republicans is we haven’t asked them.”
The self-described “family values” conservative said he personally opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, but he’s campaigning on an economic recovery platform. Postma advocates stimulating the economy by setting aside taxes raised for Social Security and other benefits in a new trust fund to be invested in American businesses.
Returns on that investment will create jobs, stimulate the economy, balance the budget and increase retirement benefits, he said.
“It is expected the budget will balance within seven years and benefits will be greatly increased,” Postma wrote in a summary of the plan. “Most workers will retire millionaires.”
Postma also supports starting a new dollar system backed by gold as a way to help reduce the national debt.