Stephen Smith was a Democratic candidate for governor of West Virginia. Sadly, he didn’t win his primary. And when you read about his campaign, you’ll understand why we are disappointed but also still inspired as all hell.
From the Intercept, July 3rd.
As the coronavirus pandemic upends most aspects of everyday living across the country, political campaigns have abandoned in-person events and transitioned to virtual town halls in efforts to keep their bids afloat. In West Virginia, Stephen Smith, a 40-year-old community organizer running a movement-based campaign for governor, is attempting something even more ambitious.
The progressive-populist candidate has remade his campaign’s field operation to spearhead a statewide response to the pandemic, filling a void left by Republican Gov. Jim Justice’s administration. Smith’s anti-establishment campaign, known as West Virginia Can’t Wait, had a coronavirus response website up before the state government did and recently released an 11-point policy plan calling for drive-through coronavirus testing in every county, vote-by-mail legislation, and moratoria on evictions and utility shutoffs. “Over the course of 72 hours, we completely reimagined the campaign,” the gubernatorial hopeful, who is running as a Democrat, said.
The results were impressive. In the months coming up to the primary, his campaign reached out to 300,000 West Virginians to make sure they were ok. From the Prospect:
The transformed Smith campaign turned into a kind of mutual aid operation. Four hundred neighborhood captains adopted 100 voters in their communities, and not only did they nudge them to register and vote, they checked in to see if they were coping during the crisis. “There’s a big difference between bugging a neighbor to fill out their voter registration, and helping them get access to food or renegotiate an electric bill or get through to the unemployment office,” Smith said. “It surprised us how people wanted to have those conversations. It was the moment where we got to test out the idea of a people’s government.”
You might say it worked too well. Until the last weekend of the campaign, volunteers were having conversations with residents and helping them through their problems, rather than straight get-out-the-vote operations. “I think we did the right thing for the moment, which is all you can ask for,” Smith said, and he’s right. But if you’re running for office, you do need to ask for people’s votes, and the big bet placed on showing leadership instead of telling people about it didn’t quite succeed.
Even though he didn’t win, 32 candidates who joined him in running under the banner “West Virgina Can’t Wait” did move on from the primaries and will go on to the general election.
Plus, his campaign made history by having more individual donors, almost all small dollar, than any other gubernatorial campaign in history.
Here is an interview with Stephen on a trip back to Texas to visit his family.
You won’t have heard the last of this inspiring leader with Texas roots!