Of all the results from last Tuesday's election, perhaps none was more startling than the poor showing of David Kanuth, a Democrat running for the 33rd Congressional District. Kanuth raised $912,000 – a staggering sum for a first-time candidate.
But he was unable to convert those dollars into votes. He finished ninth in an 18-candidate field, with just 1,191 votes (so far), or 1.4 percent. That's about $765 per vote.
So what happened?
Kanuth, a Harvard grad and a former public defender, is still trying to figure that out himself.
“We will spend a fair amount of time and effort looking to see what we can do better,” he said in an interview. “The enthusiasm we felt on the campaign trail wasn't reflected in the number of votes on Tuesday.”
As a political novice, Kanuth faced a challenge in introducing himself to voters, presenting his credentials for office, and explaining why he wanted to be in Congress.
Mailers are one tried-and-true form of voter communication, but Kanuth did not send any. “I never liked getting them when I was a voter,” he said.
Instead, he spent most of his communication budget on TV ads, such as this one, in which people from different walks of life say they stand with David Kanuth.
These people do not explain who David Kanuth is, why he's running for Congress, or why they are standing with him.
In another ad, Kanuth offers a little more substance. He talks about the drought, background checks for gun buyers and veterans' benefits.
These issues are thrown together a little randomly, and Kanuth does not say why he is the best candidate to handle them. The “message” of the ad – “We need to put country first and do what's right for California” – is pretty vague.
“I look at Kanuth's ad, and I'm like, 'What are you saying?'” says Brian Van Riper, a Democratic political consultant. “Nobody knows who you are or what you've done.”
Maybe if we look at some of his web videos we'll get a better idea. Let's try this one:
OK, so David Kanuth is a guy who doesn't take himself too seriously. In another video on the same theme, Kanuth jokes around with a friend who has appointed himself “Minister of Lettuce.” This has something to do with maintaining Kanuth's hairstyle. “High forehead = victory,” the friend says, in a text.
It's nice to know that Kanuth can joke about himself, but he still hasn't said why voters should take him seriously. Maybe this will explain it:
This is one of several videos that argue that voters should support Kanuth because he's a good dude. In another video, since taken down, actor Chris O'Donnell vouches for Kanuth as a guy who is “genuine” and “really has it going on.” Other celebrity supporters included LL Cool J and Gwyneth Paltrow, which just shows how little celebrity endorsements matter.
So what exactly was the message of this campaign? According to Kanuth, it was “We need to get things moving and working in Washington again. We need to send somebody there that has vision and passion and persistence, which leads to persuasion.”
But the overall impression created by these videos is that Kanuth is a fuzzy-headed hipster who has no idea why he wants to be in Congress.
Maybe it's not surprising that Kanuth's message didn't connect. Perhaps what's more surprising is that Kanuth was able to raise $900,000 in the first place.
It sure looks like his family connections helped. According to Breitbart, Kanuth rounded up some money and endorsements through his father, who is also a Harvard grad, and who is married to sportscaster Lesley Visser. That apparently helped him win the backing of sports figures like Rick Pitino and Dan Marino.
Kanuth said he also knows a lot of celebrities because he lives in L.A.
“My takeaway is that we had incredible support from people willing to move forward as a district and a country,” Kanuth said. “It's an incredible process, and we're just getting started.”