WASHINGTON — Washington Rep. Adam Smith is running for the top Democratic slot on the House Armed Services Committee, telling his colleagues in a letter that after 14 years in Congress he has the background to be one of his party's leaders on defense and national security issues.
The post opened up when the top Democrat on the panel, Missouri Rep. Ike Skelton, lost his bid for re-election. Skelton's likely successor, Texas Rep. Solomon Ortiz, is trailing his Republican opponent by roughly 800 votes and has asked for a recount.
If Ortiz ends up winning re-election, Smith said in the letter it will "alter the dynamic of the (Democratic) caucus's choice for the top position on the House Armed Services Committee."
But Smith made it clear he was seeking the post.
"I think I would be a strong voice on national security and defense issues," Smith said in a telephone interview Friday. "It's not often after 14 years you get in a credible position to run for ranking member on as important a committee as Armed Services."
Smith does face opposition, though he is a senior member of the committee and chairs the important Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, which oversees Army and Air Force programs.
Texas Democratic Rep. Silvestre Reyes has also sent a letter to House Democrats saying he is running. Reyes and Smith joined the committee at the same time, but Reyes technically has seniority.
Also mentioned as a possible candidate is New Jersey Rep. Robert Andrews.
Reyes is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Smith is a member of that committee.
Both Smith and Reyes have touted the fact they come from military districts. Joint Base Lewis-McChord is in Smith's district and the Army's Fort Bliss is in Reyes' district.
Smith previously served as chairman of the Armed Services Committee's terrorism and unconventional threats subcommittee, which among other things oversees the nation's Special Operations forces.
The Democratic caucus could vote on who will serve as the committee's ranking member in early December.
So far, Smith said the response has been positive as he works to contact each House Democrat personally.
If the Democrats regain control of the House, Smith would be in line for the chairmanship, but becoming the ranking Democratic member is a first step.
"It's not as good as being chairman, but the Armed Services Committee has always been a collaborative committee," Smith said.