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Before the coronavirus pandemic, Stephen Smith was already running an unconventional campaign for governor of West Virginia. It is a bona fide of-the-people effort under the banner “West Virginia Can’t Wait.” The campaign, its policy proposals and budget have been discussed and written — by the people. In fact, Smith isn’t even the focal point of his own race for governor. The Democratic primary is June 9.

“We actually don’t think that one governor is the answer to all of our problems. We actually believe that never in American history, certainly not in West Virginia history, has a politician been the answer,” Smith told me in the latest episode of “Cape Up.” “What we need is change from the bottom up. So that’s how we built our campaign.”

That also means taking on entrenched interests in both the Democratic and Republican parties in a state that has gone from being seen as a blue state to a solidly red one that voted overwhelmingly for President Trump. “We are not actually a reliably red state, nor were we a reliably blue state before,” explained Smith. “What we were is people who were tired of getting kicked in the teeth too often by corporate interests in both parties.”

When life locked down because of the coronavirus, Smith and the 94 candidates running under the “Can’t Wait” umbrella used its untraditional campaign structure to transform into a covid-19 response team. It is all in keeping with what Smith is hoping to accomplish overall with his run for governor. “When you’re out to build long-term power, whether I get more votes than my opponent in the primary or the general, what we’re building can’t be taken away,” Smith told me.

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