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by Jake Lahut for Business Insider

  • Stephen Smith, a rookie campaigner running in West Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, has turned his field operation into a “coronavirus crisis response team.”
  • Smith, 40, already broke US Sen. Joe Manchin’s record for both small and individual contributions to a WV gubernatorial campaign, and boasts a roster of more than 90 down ballot allies under the movement West Virginia Can’t Wait.
  • He’s a Harvard grad who returned to the Mountain State after spending his high school years in Texas and early organizing career in Chicago.
  • Now, he’s trying to oust Republican Gov. Jim Justice and flip West Virginia blue as the coronavirus confines the campaign online.
  • “Right now — and I think this is increasingly true across the country — West Virginia isn’t a red or a blue state,” Smith told Insider. “We’re a state that’s fed up with the establishment of both parties.”

With no doors to knock on or hands to shake, Stephen Smith is taking his West Virginia gubernatorial campaign in a different direction.

The 40-year-old Democrat already broke US Sen. Joe Manchin’s 2005 record for most small donations in a Mountain State run for Charleston’s corner office. Smith also broke the record for most individual donations last month.

Now, Smith is channeling that grassroots energy by flipping his field operation into a “coronavirus crisis response team.”

He still has a primary race to compete in, with voting day moved to June 9, but Smith told Insider that making his campaign’s resources available for those struggling from the coronavirus is the current priority.

“It’s kind of incredible and radical and beautiful that, I think, we caught on to what was going on fairly early, and decided to act boldly and quickly,” Smith said in a phone interview Monday. “And what that looked like was a comprehensive coronavirus resource web page that was up on our campaign website before the state of West Virginia had its own website.”

His campaign has 305 “neighborhood captains” across the state who aim to contact around 100 neighbors per week to check in on what they need: food, masks, transportation, help with unemployment insurance, and even assistance with getting registered to vote absentee.

Five days after Smith’s campaign launched its coronavirus site, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice told constituents to “go to Bob Evans and eat” as he downplayed the severity of the pandemic.

Justice’s office did not immediately return a request for comment. 

Smith grew up in the capital city of Charleston before moving to Texas for his high school years, going on to graduate from Harvard University. He then moved to Chicago for his early career before heading back to the Mountain State to raise his family…

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