THIS IS THE INTERNET Facing steep odds against an entrenched incumbent, Kansas state
representative candidate Sean Tevis took to the Web and raised nearly $100,000 through a
comic strip mashing “xkcd” and 300.
The term “Internet famous” brings a few things to mind: nerdy guys caught doing nerdy things, vitriol-fueled bloggers typing away in their basements, Tila Tequila — in other words, people who are more infamous than famous, and usually pretty broke.
If he does nothing else this summer, Sean Tevis should change that stereotype. The 39-year-old information architect from Olathe, Kansas, became an Internet celebrity this July when he put up a comic strip soliciting donations for his state-rep campaign. Within two weeks, he had raised close to $100,000.
What kind of comic could inspire such widespread generosity? Well, it’s done in the style of the popular Web strip “xkcd,” features a verbal Rick Roll (check Wikipedia if you’re not in the loop), and contains a lot of references to the movie 300. (See for yourself at seantevis.com/kansas/3000/running-for-office-xkcd-style.)
Call it Revenge of the Nerds for a new age.
Tevis, a first-time Democratic candidate, was just trying to raise $26,000 to run a competitive campaign against Sunflower State incumbent Arlen Siegfreid. He figured that he could probably find 3000 people who agreed with him that would be willing to donate $8.34, but he reached that goal within two days. In fact, as of his July 28 campaign contribution filings — the most recent figures available — Tevis had collected the relatively astronomical sum of $96,512.76, to fight an opponent who has raised roughly a sixth of that amount.
According to his filings, $70,000 of his donations were less than $50, but plenty gave more than that. Most of the biggest spenders appeared to be, like Tevis, employed in the technology sector, including a couple of them here in Massachusetts.
“It wasn’t so much his positions . . . but more of the fact that he was a computer geek who decided to get up and actually inflict some change in his surroundings,” wrote John Resig, a computer programmer from Somerville, in an e-mail. He found out about Tevis through the news-aggregating Web site reddit.com, and donated $120.88 to the campaign.
Tevis, who was not available to comment for this article, has been pushing a progressive agenda, calling for reform of the schools in Kansas — perhaps saying goodbye to the Flying Spaghetti Monster — and bringing more transparency to the government. Even with a war chest like his, fighting against an entrenched incumbent is never easy, and Tevis faces an uphill battle. Still, his fans are hopeful.
“I confess that I’m pleasantly surprised to see that he did quite that well,” writes Steve Huff, another Somerville resident who donated $120, in an e-mail. “My hope is that he will win by a landslide and that his organizing strategy will serve as a template for other progressives stranded out in fly-over country.”