For the first time since U.S. representative Adam Smith was elected in 1996, the incumbent will face another Democratic challenger come November.
Ballot counts Thursday afternoon brought Democrat Sarah Smith to the second-place primary spot in the Ninth Congressional District race, and she's been steadily extending her lead over Republican Doug Basler. The 30-year-old challenger—endorsed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who upset a longtime Democratic incumbent in her New York primary—looks locked in to advance from the top-two primary to face the 11-term incumbent in November.
Representative Smith still came in first in the primary with 48.6 percent of votes. Sarah Smith has received 27 percent, while Basler is in third with 24.4 percent. A total of about 20,000 votes are still left to be counted for both King and Pierce counties, but later votes tend to favor the more progressive candidate.
"We are gaining on a sitting congressman," Smith said Thursday evening on her Facebook page. "This is historic, this is incredible."
Sarah Smith was largely underfunded, having raised just $57,000 compared to Adam Smith's $602,000.
Hoping to rally the millennial voters who are feeling disenfranchised with politics, Sarah Smith ran on a campaign similar to that of socialist senator Bernie Sanders—an anti-war, anti-corporations campaign that opposes big money in politics, and supports universal health care and free college.
She supports abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, wants all immigrants to have a path to citizenship, and opposes Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza blockade. She's also backed by the national Brand New Congress political action committee with a populist platform.
Congressman Smith said he's not worried about November since he received twice as many votes as both his candidates. He said he's "vastly more qualified" and that voters believe he's done a good job representing his district, which spans Tacoma to Bellevue.
"We want the person who's going to do the best job, and whether you've been there 20 years or you've never done it at all, the question is who's going to be the most effective fighting for the ninth district," Adam Smith told PubliCola.
Smith's chance against the incumbent is still a long shot in November, since conservative voters who backed Basler may not turn out to vote without a GOP candidate in the mix. Basler said while he would consider endorsing Sarah Smith, it may not make much of a difference.
"I'm very proud of Sarah and I'm very proud of what we've done together," Basler told PubliCola. "We brought Adam below 50 percent, and that means he's vulnerable. And it gives people like us outsiders a chance."
Updated 2:08pm to correct that Ocasio-Cortex is running in New York.