Just about the time you think you understand California politics, David Evans comes along, with his daughter, Kistie.
Evans is the California City accountant who spent $600 on his campaign for state controller. As of election day, Evans was in a dead heat with former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, the goliath who spent $2 million and is the choice of much of organized labor, for the second spot in the top-two primary.
"It is not rocket science," Evans told me by phone Wednesday. "I don't profess to be the smartest political guru. But I did pretty well on $600."
He spent that princely sum on his ballot statement, which reads, in full: "Most qualified for Controller." That's it.
He listed his email address in the official voter information guide. His personal email. And his phone number. Not his campaign headquarters number. He doesn't have a headquarters. His sent his own number to 17.7 million registered voters in California. And he answers it himself, "Hullo."
"I'm very conservative fiscally. I believe taxpayer dollars are sacred," Evans said, looking every bit the part of a California City accountant with a 1950s-era flattop and white shirt in the unslick video posted on his Facebook page, with its 425 likes.
Wise pundits offer plenty of reasons why Evans amassed 636,109 votes on election day, to Pérez's 638,545 votes and 632,109 votes for Board of Equalization member Betty Yee, another Democrat who spent $600,000. The three trail Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, but not by a great deal.
Turnout was incredibly low. Few voters know anything about down-ballot offices, let alone the candidates who seek them. Evans' ballot designation, chief financial officer, is impressive. He ran for controller once before, in 2010, and was mayor of California City. His name is easy to remember, though also easy to forget.
Maybe his secret is his daughter, Kistie, a 25-year graduate of Brigham Young University-Idaho who works for a public relations firm in Torrance. Kistie majored in political science and spent a few months in 2007 as an intern answering mail for President George W. Bush. She had worked in campaigns since she was 14, always as a volunteer. Her dad didn't pay her, either.
"I can't give away all the secrets," Kistie said.
How about one secret? I asked.
She thought about it.
"It was a perfect opportunity for this kind of campaign. We reached out through social media. Facebook and Twitter. ... We were focused on the conservative voter base. With the open primary, it was important to focus on the independents. It's a testament that grass-roots campaigning is not dead."
She and her dad listed various milestones in the campaign on their Facebook page:
May 5: "Many of the California's American Independent Party central committees have endorsed me for State Controller. What an honor to be selected."
May 8: "Good Article today about my candidacy in the Antelope Valley Press by Allison Gatlin. As always, Allison's writing is outstanding."
May 27: "We were contacted by over 1100 voters! Quite overwhelming. Almost 100% said they were voting for us. Universal message from them was they are not voting for 'politicians.' Huge dislike of both Democrat and Republican establishment candidates. We can make no predictions as to the election with the new primary format, but we can say it may prove to be very interesting!"
Perhaps they picked up votes among fellow Mormons. Like many in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Evans supported Proposition 8, the 2008 initiative that sought to ban same-sex marriage. Evans said he gave $50 to it, or maybe $150. He couldn't quite recall.
"The LDS church is very small world, and so he knows a lot of people because of that," his daughter said.
Perhaps Evans' showing also says something about candidates such as Pérez. Lacking much of anything else to do, and wanting to remain in politics, he ran for controller. It'd be a title, a paycheck and a platform from which to run for another office.
David Evans, on the other hand, promises to do the job of controller for a term or two, and then go back to being a California City accountant.
Follow Dan Morain on Twitter @danielmorain.