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Saturday, July 14, 2012 - Page updated at 09:30 p.m.

Rep. Adam Smith treads new ground as he faces four rivals

By Lewis Kamb
News Tribune

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 congressional district made up of a majority of racial and ethnic minorities, 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: libertarian Republican John Orlinski, conservative Republican Jim Postma, progressive Democrat Tom Cramer and LaRouche Democrat Dave Christie.

Smith and Orlinski are the only candidates who currently 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 chunk of Seattle. Lost was Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the pro-military 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 Democratic candidates. That makes the 9th the second-most Democratic-leaning congressional district in Washington, behind the 7th District, which includes much of Seattle.

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.

State Senate seat

Smith, an attorney who grew up near SeaTac, has held public office continually since 1991, when he was elected to the state Senate at age 25. He served in Olympia until winning a congressional seat in 1996.

Smith, how 47, has stayed there ever since, easily winning re-election.

As his party's top member on the House Armed Services Committee, said, "I'm also proud of what I've done with military members and their families."

As of the last campaign-finance reporting period in March, Smith had raised just over $701,000, with more than $503,000 cash on hand.

Other than Postma, who had about $53,000 carrying over from his 2010 campaign, no other candidate has raised more than $3,500, records show.

Smith said he supports President Obama's current plan to cut military spending, but when asked, he acknowledged he has also 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 says 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."

Social worker

Orlinski, 56, a state social worker, views himself as an independent Republican who supports a majority of Ron Paul's views.

"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 lives in South Bellevue, has served on the Lake Washington Technical College board of directors for 10 years. He ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat in the 8th District in 2010.

He supports scaling back the federal education and state departments, ending the war in Afghanistan, passing immigration reform and ending the Bush tax cuts for wealthy Americans.

His plan for reducing the national debt would involve raising taxes, but he supports tax breaks for middle- and lower-income taxpayers.

The other Republican in the race, Postma, is a retired Boeing contractor and rocket engineer making his third bid for the 9th District seat. He believes the district's new boundaries only improve his chances.

"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, 77, calls himself a "family values" conservative. He said he personally opposes abortion and gay marriage, but he's campaigning on an economic-recovery platform.

He also supports starting a new dollar system backed by gold as a way to help reduce the national debt.

Small-business owner

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 he is campaigning on: They're for abortion rights, they support gay marriage and universal health care, and they oppose the Patriot Act, the recent wars and the death penalty.

Cramer contends his politics make him a better fit for the new 9th District than Smith.

"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.

A Redmond resident who lives just outside the district, Cramer has twice run unsuccessfully for Congress — once in Illinois and once in Washington's 8th District in 2010.

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 Obama for various reasons — from putting America at war without congressional consent, to approving the assassination of foreign leaders.

"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," Christie said.

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