Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stunned the political world by knocking off an incumbent congressman with two decades of experience in a Democratic primary in New York City. Can Sarah Smith do the same?
Perhaps you’ve heard this story recently:
A millennial woman, new to politics but energized by the Bernie Sanders campaign, makes a longshot run for Congress, challenging an establishment Democratic incumbent who’s been in office for two decades.
That’s the story of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who shocked the political world by defeating Rep. Joe Crowley in a Democratic primary in New York City earlier this summer.
It’s also the story of Sarah Smith, 30, an underfunded progressive challenger to longtime Rep. Adam Smith in Washington’s 9th Congressional District, which runs from Bellevue through south Seattle to north Tacoma.
Sarah Smith was recruited to run by the same national organizations that endorsed Ocasio-Cortez, and she embraces the comparison.
In a one-sentence introduction for a recent forum on Reddit, she wrote: “I’m Sarah Smith and I’m running for US Congress in the 9th on the same slate as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.”
She’s running on a Sanders-esque platform of single-payer health care, free public college and refusing corporate donations.
“You have generations of voters that are disenfranchised, that don’t feel heard,” Smith said, in an interview in her small Sodo campaign office. “And finally we have candidates like myself and like Alex that aren’t taking corporate money, we’re not cuddling up to Wall Street, we’re not cozying up to the 1 percent.”
Adam Smith does take corporate money — lots of it — but many of his policy positions aren’t too different from Sarah Smith’s. Sarah Smith has raised about $47,000 for her campaign, almost all from small out-of-state donors.
Adam Smith has raised much more — about $600,000. That includes about $325,000 from corporate political action committees, according to records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
The ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, much of Smith’s PAC money comes from the defense and aerospace industries.
The sole Republican candidate in the race, Doug Basler, also ran in 2014 and 2016 and has raised about $3,500.
Adam Smith, who has represented the 9th District in Congress for 22 years, also supports single-payer health care and free public college and has co-sponsored bills for both.
Both Smiths support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
He says the race is nothing like the upset in New York City.
“Have you been to Queens, New York?” he asked, in a phone interview. “Queens is not SeaTac or Seattle, I am not Joe Crowley, and Sarah Smith is not Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Other than that, the comparison’s perfect.”
He noted that Ocasio-Cortez is Latina and was running in a 50 percent Hispanic district. More than half of the 9th District in Washington is people of color — the only “majority-minority” district in the state — but both Smiths are white.
And, Adam Smith noted, Ocasio-Cortez homed in on the fact that Crowley moved his family to northern Virginia and doesn’t live in his district.
Here, it’s Sarah Smith who doesn’t live in the district. She lives in Kent, about a half- mile from the district boundary. She said she and her husband lived in Rainier Beach (within the district) when she launched her campaign, but moved to Kent about a year ago after the house they were renting was sold.
Sarah Smith grew up in Southern California. She moved to Everett after high school, before attending college at the University of Arizona. She moved back to the Seattle area in 2014 and most recently was an administrator at the garage of an auto dealer in Renton.
She’d previously paid attention to politics, but it was Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign that sucked her in. She made recurring $27 donations to Sanders over several months.
After Donald Trump won the presidency, she felt the need to get more involved. She did some volunteer work for the state Democratic Party.
“Then I decided that wasn’t really where my heart was at,” she said. “I really wanted to see this massive transformation.”
She discovered the group Brand New Congress online and started volunteering. Then they asked her to run.
Brand New Congress — which helps train candidates and provides campaign consulting — has endorsed 17 candidates who have already run in primaries this year. Four have advanced to the general election. Only Ocasio-Cortez has defeated an incumbent.
With the two candidates having similar views on policy but drastically different backgrounds, Adam Smith says his experience and lifelong ties to the 9th District make him the best choice.
“You’ve got one candidate who’s trying to hitch her star to some sort of national platform, you’ve got another one who’s actually committed to the people that I want to represent,” he said.
Sarah Smith doesn’t deny that she’s had help and inspiration from outside the district.
“He thinks it’s not a national movement, and I think that’s really shortsighted,” she said. “We’re working-class people that are trying to make a difference and change the lives of people like us.”