Is Any Candidate Really Tech Savvy?
Monday, February 07, 2000 03:00 AM ET
by  Galen Gruman

Presidential hopefuls keep a close eye on the issues and wallets of the high-tech community.

With all the news surrounding the mergers, acquisitions, economic growth and newfound money in Silicon Valley, it's no wonder presidential hopefuls are keeping a close eye on the issues and wallets of the high-tech community.

Having raised more than $1.5 million in support of the upcoming election ($785,000 for the Republicans, $770,000 for the Democrats), the three leading presidential candidates -- Texas Gov. George W. Bush, former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, and Vice President Al Gore - are scouring the Valley (as well as other high-tech centers) for money and votes.

The three leading presidential candidates -- Bush, Bradley and Gore -- are scouring the Valley for money and votes.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, who trounced Bush in the recent New Hampshire primary and is on par with him in the South Carolina primary, according to the polls, has raised almost no money in Silicon Valley.

Bush, Bradley and Gore offer similar proposals, strategies and ideas on issues of interest to high-tech companies. In fact, their agendas -- which by and large match the desires of the tech community -- closely resemble each other on issues of importance to the dot-com industry (Internet taxation, H1-B visa availability and encryption export restrictions) as well as the entire high-tech industry (the promotion of free global trade, a reduction in shareholder lawsuits, an increase in tax credits for research, a reduction in taxes on stock and options gains, and overriding federal accounting standards that tech companies say penalize them).

In policy areas, the candidates' differences typically boil down to tactics. On H-1B visas, for example, all three agree that U.S. companies should get more access to foreign high-tech guest workers. However, Bush would increase the current limit of 115,000, while Gore would eliminate the category altogether and instead create a program to accelerate the naturalization of foreign high-tech talents, making it possible for them to work anywhere without the hassle of red tape and letting them remain in the United States, where they can benefit U.S. companies indefinitely.

Politics Beyond Policies
In the end, though, the candidates' views may not matter much to high-tech voters. It became clear in talking to supporters that there are few lines drawn among the candidates -- and that personal comfort and social issues will likely sway high-tech voters more than high-tech concerns.

The personal factor
"They have very similar views on issues related to Silicon Valley," says Bradley supporter Ted Schlein, a general partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. "I think this election is much more about personalities, styles, leadership capabilities." Schlein has known Bradley for about 20 years, since Schlein was 13 years old and his father was finance chairman for Bradley's first Senate run. Bradley has become a family friend, someone Schlein played charades with each year.

Although E. Floyd Kvamme, a senior partner at Kleiner Perkins and co-founder of TechNet, has known Republican politicians before, such as Ed Zschau (the fellow high-tech CEO who ran for a Senate seat in California in 1986), this is the first presidential election he's been "this involved in." The reason he decided to throw his heft into the battle? "I really got to know the governor pretty well," says Kvamme, who is a Bush supporter.

For Gore supporter Chris Larsen, CEO of E-Loan (EELN), "He is the guy who went a long way in inspiring me on the Internet economy."

Picking the U.S. CEO
"When the economics are great, you can ask, What kind of chief executive do you want? Who's the best CEO for the world?" says Schlein, echoing a common sentiment in the Valley: The president is the chief executive of the United States, and perhaps the world. "You've got to find a leader who doesn't view themselves as a politician per se but someone who's able to put together a good team. Sure, you've got to understand how government works. But the fact is that Bill has had a life before the Senate, and he's had a life after the Senate.

"Bill is intelligence with integrity, policy without partisanship. He's one of the smartest people we've had run for president. He's as squeaky clean as he appears to be," Schlein continues.

"I think people are sick of partisan politics. Bill has demonstrated the ability to side with his party and to go against his party. I believe that based upon his access to all the data that he'll make the best decisions for the rest of the country. Personally, I believe he will execute."

Gore supporter John Witchel, founder and CEO of consumer e-services startup Red Gorilla, echoes this leadership theme: "Gore understands technology. He's interested by it. He understands that it's a tool that works for some things and not for others."

Echoes Larsen, "He was out here way before anyone was even aware of the potential, before this was a lucrative stop on the campaign trail. It's not just rhetoric with him; he has a real passion about where the New Economy is going. He got that from the start."

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