CHARLESTON, W.Va. — One of the Democratic presidential frontrunners has endorsed the campaign of Stephen Smith for the West Virginia governor’s race.
Smith’s campaign received the endorsement from Senator Elizabeth Warren on Monday.
“I’m proud to endorse Stephen’s bid for governor, and his team’s efforts to run candidates up and down the ballot,” Warren stated.
Smith said his campaign is excited to receive the backing.
“I think it’s an acknowledgment of the work that’s been happening here and has been happening for months now,” he said in a telephone interview. “We hope it’s the first of many endorsements.”
It’s a high-profile boost to Smith’s campaign after last week’s announcement that U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin was dropping his oft-stated notion of getting into the governor’s race.
Warren’s endorsement comes as other Democrats may be considering whether to jump into the governor’s race against Smith, now knowing that Manchin will not.
Smith, the former director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, has approached the race as a political outsider, swearing off corporate donations and spearheading 116 town hall events across the state so far.
“We believe something exciting here has been happening for a long time,” he said. “We didn’t invent it, but we’re proud to be a part of the movement that’s happening from the ground up in West Virginia.”
His campaign has raised more than $300,000 total and led all gubernatorial candidates in fundraising over the most recent quarterly reporting period.
Incumbent Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican, is likely to receive continued support from President Donald Trump, who remains popular in West Virginia.
Justice’s campaign announced on Monday afternoon that the governor will serve as an honorary chairman in West Virginia for Trumps’ re-election bid.
“We cannot afford to turn backwards, and I look forward to four more years of working with President Trump to give West Virginians hope and opportunity,” Justice stated.
Among the Democrats vying to take on Trump, Warren is among the top three in most recent polls, along with former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders.
Sanders won the Democratic primary in West Virginia in 2016 with 51 percent of the vote to almost 36 percent for Hillary Clinton.
Warren was well-received in West Virginia in May when she traveled to Mingo County to talk about her plans to fight the opioid epidemic.
Warren weighing in so early for Smith is significant, said Ryan Frankenberry, state director of the West Virginia Working Families Party, which works to support progressive candidates.
“This is one of the earliest national endorsements in a gubernatorial primary,” Frankenberry said. “So having an endorsement this far out by a major national player signals how much Stephen Smith and the Can’t Wait movement that we’re building is growing.”
But a longtime Democratic consultant in West Virginia suggests Warren’s endorsement might only go so far.
“Being endorsed by Elizabeth Warren in 2020 is like being endorsed by Hillary Clinton in West Virginia in 2016,” said consultant Mike Plante. “It’s something fun to help your grandkids, but hard to see how it helps at the ballot box.”
Smith said his campaign has been in touch with representatives of different campaigns over the past few months and that Warren’s was the first to endorse.
“We would be honored to have the endorsement of any Democratic presidential candidate,” he said. “We think the attention is entirely positive.”
Warren’s campaign called Smith a champion for working families, blending some of the key phrases from his campaign with some of her own.
“West Virginia can’t wait any longer for big, structural change,” Warren stated, “and that’s exactly what this campaign is fighting for: an economy that works for everyone; an education system that is truly led by students and teachers; and a health care system that confronts the opioid crisis head-on.”