Government
11:47 pm
Sun August 3, 2008

Getting Out The Geek Vote

Rarely, does a race for the Kansas legislature generate much interest outside that district's boundaries, but that's just what's happening this year, all due to an online comic strip. A campaign in the Kansas City suburb of Olathe is drawing attention and money from around the globe. Maria Carter of member station KCUR reports.

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What's an idealistic first time candidate to do? Democratic strategists here in Kansas say you need at least 26-thousand dollars to have any shot at beating a Republican incumbent. After two weeks of knocking on doors, challenger Sean Tevis had only 25 dollars and two dog bites, so Tevis put his skill running a corporate web page to work. He posted a stick-figure comic strip online.

TEVIS: The title is Running for Office: It's Like a Flamewar with a Forum Troll, But with an Eventual Winner and too most people that's gobbledygook.

The comic is filled with inside jokes relating to other web comics, terms like downmodding, and the online phenomenon .

TEVIS: That's where you put a link somewhere and you say, Hey, go see this cool thing because it's really neat!' You click on the link and instead of finding what you were expecting suddenly you're redirected to a video of the singer Rick Astley singing, Never Gonna Give You Up (snap) yeah.

But it's more than just jokes. It's the story of a first time candidate. Log on to the comic and you'll see a bearded stick figure tell Tevis 26-thousand dollars is easy. Relax, he says, you just need 52 people who can donate 500 dollars. The stick figure Tevis responds, I know two such people So to his advisor's chagrin, Tevis breaks it down 3-thousand people, 8-dollars-and-34-cents a piece, and includes an appeal to the internet masses.

TEVIS: In less than 4 hours, my server crashed, because I was getting 8 to 10 people a second visit that webpage. And I was astonished.

He put the site back up and hit his fundraising goal in less than a day. In the week and a half before his first campaign finance report was due, he'd done something unprecedented in raising more than 96-thousand dollars from almost 6-thousand people, many of whom have never set foot in Kansas. His Republican opponent was shocked.

SIEGRIED: "There's no way I want to compete with that." Arlen Siegfried is the Republican incumbent. He says he expects to raise around 35-thousand dollars and despite recent knee surgery will do most of his campaigning the old fashioned way door to door.

SIEGRIED: "I will start it on crutches if I have to because it has to start here pretty soon."

Siegfried gets much of his money from businesses and lobbyists but he's updated his website so people can pledge online. Both candidates join a long list of political hopefuls trying to use the internet to rake in money for their campaign. Joseph Aistrup chairs the political science department at Kansas State University. He says while others have had success soliciting money online, he hasn't seen anything like this.

AISTRUP: "His appeal and the way in which he did it was particularly 21st century. So he is on the cutting edge of a different way to raise money for your campaign."

And for Sean Tevis, nearly 100-thousand dollars means he's gone from being the Democratic underdog in a mostly Republican district to trying to figure out how to win the race and not disappoint his online fans.