Democratic Socialist Sarah Smith hopes to pull an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez against longtime Democratic Congressman Adam Smith. First, shell have to beat a Republican.
Democratic Socialist Sarah Smith hopes to pull an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez against longtime Democratic Congressman Adam Smith. First, she'll have to beat a Republican.

Sarah Smith, the 30-year-old Democratic Socialist who's challenging 11-term Seattle area Congressman Adam Smith, wants to become the next Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

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But to do that, she first needs to beat a Republican in tonight's primary election. It won't be easy.

Sarah Smith is running her insurgent campaign in Washington's 9th District, which covers south Seattle, parts of south King County, and parts of North Pierce County.

Back in 1996, when Adam Smith first won the 9th, it was seen as a conservative district. Smith's centrism helped him snatch it from Republican hands and then hang on to it through seven more terms, beating back Republican challengers every election season.

After the 9th's boundaries were redrawn in response to the 2010 census, it became Washington State's first majority-minority district and Smith, the white man representing this newly configured district, began facing Democratic primary challengers who were not white men.

He kept on winning. In the three elections since redistricting, Smith has averaged 59 percent of the vote in his primary elections and nearly 72 percent of the vote in his general elections.

The large victory margins that Adam Smith's been racking up in recent general elections stem, in part, from the fact that he's always defeated any left-leaning challengers during the primaries and then gone on to face Republicans on the general election ballot.

During the last two election cycles, for example, Smith easily defeated King County Republican Party Vice Chairman Doug Basler in the general election after Basler—by pulling in between 20 and 30 percent of the primary vote—first knocked out Smith's lefty competition during the primary.

Well, guess who's back on the primary ballot for a third try this year?

Doug Basler!

Although no Democrat has ever made it out of a primary to challenge Smith in a general election, the campaign of Sarah Smith says it's "pretty confident" she'll defy history and make it through this time.

In today's primary, her campaign manager told The Stranger, "we'll be happy to see anywhere above 27 percent." Then, "once we're into the general, we expect a great showing."

But can Sarah Smith get even 27 percent in the primary?

Let's do some math:

Over the last two election cycles—cycles in which Adam Smith has, like this year, faced primary challenges from the left and right—Republican Doug Basler's average primary take has been 25 percent.

Over that same period, Adam Smith's average primary take has been 60 percent.

If Adam Smith and Doug Basler do about average in this year's primary, that leaves only 15 percent of the vote for Sarah Smith to take.

The Sarah Smith campaign has been making a major door-knocking push, and perhaps that'll help her peel another 12 percent of primary voters away from Smith (and/or Basler) and get her to the 27 percent take—and the second-place primary finish—she wants.

Maybe revulsion at the Trump presidency will help her, too, hugely boosting primary turnout in the 9th and bringing in new voters who'll embrace her message of Medicare-for-all, abolishing ICE, and taking money from the military to fund guaranteed jobs.

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And maybe the surging appeal of socialism on the left (explained well by Michael Tomasky in a recent New York Times column) will be the final part of the boost that Sarah Smith needs in order to move on to the general election and try to become the next Ocasio-Cortez.

If that all happens, it'll signal a major shift in the attitudes of the 9th's primary voters and another huge rejection of Democratic centrism by the building "blue wave."

But it's a very tall order, and recent history suggests it's far more likely that it'll be Adam Smith and Doug Basler who once again make it through the primary, after which Smith will easily defeat Basler in the general.