Challenger says South Sound needs fewer political pros like Rep. Smith

Both U.S. Rep. Adam Smith and his opponent want to make their race to represent Washington’s 9th Congressional District all about the incumbent’s experience as they campaign this fall.

Smith, a Democrat, says his 17 years representing the South Sound in Congress have given him the experience to speak up effectively in the capital for voters in Pierce and King counties. He’s seeking a tenth term in the House of Representatives.

“Clearly, I’m the candidate who better understands the district, better understands the issues and will do a better job for the district,” he said.

His opponent, Republican Doug Basler, counters that the other Washington needs fewer political pros like Smith walking the halls of power. He says voters should give him a chance to bring some change as an outsider.

“Adam, he’s just been in there forever, and I think you lose touch,” Basler said. “I live here, and I want to be represented by someone who understands what it means when taxes go up.”

Basler’s pitch may have some charm to conservative voters itching to boot out incumbents, but he’s campaigning with few resources against a well-known lawmaker in one of the state’s bluest districts.

Basler has not reported raising any money for his campaign to the Federal Election Commission while Smith raised $851,000 by July for this year’s campaign. He had more than $536,000 available to spend at the end of the last campaign finance reporting period.

The Democrat also has become a national figure on security issues. He’s the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, making him a frequent face on national television in debates about terrorism, military plans and defense spending.

Smith, 49, grew up in SeaTac and lives in Bellevue with his wife, Sara Bickle-Eldridge. They moved to King County from Tacoma in 2012 when a remapping of the state’s congressional districts moved Smith’s seat northward. It now stretches from the Port of Tacoma as far north as Sammamish, taking in parts of Seattle, Kent and Renton.

Smith, an attorney, has served in elected office since 1991 when he won a seat in the state Senate. He moved to Congress in 1997 and built his reputation on defense issues. Prior to 2012, his district included Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Recently, he has pushed to close the detainee prison at Guantanamo Bay and roll back the forced federal spending cuts known as sequestration. He also has publicly supported the Obama administration’s approach to gradually stepping up military involvement in Iraq and Syria without putting U.S. ground troops in direct combat with Islamic State militants.

He also has favored the Pentagon’s request for a round of base closures, which Smith says could free up money to use on keeping troops at a high level of military readiness.

Representatives from the defense industry are his largest political donors. The industry contributed about half of the $112,000 Smith has raised for his political leadership committee – which he uses to support other Democratic candidates – this election cycle and about 22 percent of the money he has raised for his reelection.

If elected for another term, Smith wants to pass a budget on time and repeal the sequestration cuts, which threaten to crimp spending on social services and to compel debilitating reductions in military spending that would shrink the size of the Army.

Sequestration cuts have been unfolding since 2013, but Congress has delayed the most severe spending reductions. That gives lawmakers time to revise the spending plan. As is, the Defense Department would lose about half a trillion dollars in planned military spending over 10 years. Social services would take a similarly deep cut.

“There certainly is time to get a budget together” that replaces sequestration. “But Republicans refuse to put one penny on the table,” said Smith, who supports closing tax loopholes or raising taxes to fund government programs.

Basler, 55, lives in Kent with his wife and five kids. He’s active in his church. He owns a marketing business that makes TV commercials and he has worked for Republican political campaigns.

He says he’s running because he wants to “turn the ship” in Washington, D.C., by giving “citizen lawmakers” a voice in the Capitol.

“That’s an excellent way to protect liberty because you avoid having an elite class of professional politicians,” he said. “I’m just a normal hardworking guy. I have a bunch of kids. I’m married. I’m normal. I’m not a professional political guy.”

He criticized Smith’s stance on high-profile investigations into the September 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Smith sits on the House select committee investigating the attack that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Smith has been critical of repeated calls from Republicans to continuing investigating the attack, calling them efforts to “throw as much mud at the wall as possible and hope something sticks.”

Basler took issue with Smith’s tone, calling it disparaging to security contractors and military personnel who have claimed more could have been done to protect the consulate.

“I think that was shameful,” Basler said.