Candidates Talk Tech in Silicon Valley

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Silicon Valley used to be just a pit stop for presidential candidates looking to make money. But in today's campaigns, candidates must take time to talk with the tech community. We pay a visit to Google's headquarters, one of the key tech sites in Silicon Valley.


From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.


And I'm Madeleine Brand.

Alex, it's great to see you back from Nevada.

CHADWICK: With the entire NPR production team from Eureka, Nevada, the little town that was so cold.

BRAND: So cold. Well, it is not so cold here in California. And today we turn our political focus to this balmy state.

CHADWICK: Right. California, the jewel of what they call Tsunami Tuesday, that's what the politico say - Tuesday, February 5th, when 24 states are holding primaries or caucuses on one day. And here in California, hundreds of delegates are at stake - 10 percent of the total needed for Democrats, seven percent for Republicans. So how do you go about campaigning here?

BRAND: And that is part of what I've been focusing on. Let me play you a clip from Dan Walters. He is a columnist and reporter for the Sacramento Bee. He said this is a very tough state to campaign in, and here's why.

Mr. DAN WALTERS (Sacramento Bee): We have the kind of diversity - geographic, economic, cultural diversity that you more would find in a large nation. We have an economy the size of France's. California is a very big state, almost 38 million people, 800 miles long, and a very contentious place. We're a place in which there's very little broad public consensus on much of anything.

BRAND: We're going to come back to Dan Walters in a moment for more on what makes California tick politically and what the candidates need to do to win in this state.

One thing they need to do, visit Silicon Valley. I went there last week to see how this collection of seemingly bland office parks has been transformed into a political power center. First stop, Google.

Mr. ANDREW McLAUGHLIN (Senior Policy Counsel, Google): This is a little garden, a sort of organic garden that we have that grows food that they use in the kitchens here.

BRAND: We're at the company's Mountain View headquarters, or campus, as they call it. Our escort is spokesman Andrew McLaughlin.

Mr. McLAUGHLIN: You can walk around and gather herbs, or legumes in some cases.

BRAND: Here's where the legumes end up - in Google's gourmet cafeteria, where employees can eat for free, and catch an appearance by most of the leading presidential candidates. It's where Barack Obama, Ron Paul and Hillary Clinton have all come to talk tech.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Presidential Candidate): When it comes to energy or the environment, there's a lot of entrepreneurial genius in this room.

Representative RON PAUL (Republican, Texas; Presidential Candidate): Net neutrality I think is regulation that would lead to control. I don't support that. I want to protect the marketplace and the creativity of the marketplace.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): I will appoint the nation's first chief technology officer to coordinate and make certain that we are always at the forefront of technology and that we are incorporating it in every decision that we make.

(Soundbite of applause)

BRAND: John Edwards and John McCain have also made appearances. So what's in it for them? Well, cash, for one. Google employees have given hundreds of thousands of dollars. And, says Google's Andrew McLaughlin, there's a coveted young demographic.

Mr. McLAUGHLIN: We hire a lot of people sort of out of university and within a couple of years of graduating. And I think it's probably a pretty good sign for our democracy that they're as engaged as they are.

BRAND: Also, an appearance here is an appearance everywhere. Remember, Google now owns YouTube.

Mr. McLAUGHLIN: We offer candidates ability to kind of get their appearances up on YouTube so you're not just talking to the employees but literally talking to the entire world when you come into these events. It's kind of a no-brainer just as a place to come and give a speech, in Barack Obama's case, or to do Q&A, in the case of Clinton and McCain.

BRAND: Here's someone posing a question to John McCain at Google's cafeteria not long ago.

Unidentified Woman: Most of the people I've met in high tech are either liberals or libertarians. I wanted to ask you why do you think that is and why you think we should be Republicans?

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): You know...

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. McCAIN: Here's what I believe about the Republican Party. When I look at what this organization is all about, I think I identify more closely with it than a Democrat does. The more that this new information technology can flourish and spread all over the world, the better off the world is going to be.

BRAND: Mitt Romney, Rudolph Giuliani, Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson have yet to make an appearance, although there's still time and the doors are open.

Silicon Valley has never been more important in the presidential race. Candidates need money to compete in this newly important primary state. So they've raised millions from the computer industry, with Obama in the lead. One of his fundraisers, Silicon Valley lawyer John Roos, says tech entrepreneurs see in Obama a kindred spirit.

Mr. JOHN ROOS (CEO, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati): This is a center for change. Yes, obviously technologically, but the technology and the innovation that comes out of Silicon Valley drives the change in the world.

BRAND: It used to be that the Valley was seen as just an ATM for the candidates. They'd pass through and make a withdrawal on their way to and from San Francisco or Los Angeles.

Now though, Silicon Valley leaders are demanding the candidates pay attention to their issues. Stanford University law professor Lawrence Lessig specializes in technology.

Professor LAWRENCE LESSIG (Stanford University): I think the critical question is how to get technology back in the center of economic growth. In the 1990s, technology was a critical component of the success of the Clinton economy. And the last eight years, technology has been forgotten by this administration. So what do we do to make it so that technology is once again the driving force of economic growth?

BRAND: One answer according to Google is increase broadband availability. Other computer companies want immigration reform.

Mr. CARL GUARDINO (President and CEO, Silicon Valley Manufacturers Group): Immigration reform, H1B visas and green cards is a huge issue when you consider that more than five of every 10 engineers in Silicon Valley is foreign-born.

BRAND: Carl Guardino heads a group of Silicon Valley business leaders.

Mr. GUARDINO: Nearly six of every 10 jobs being created today in Silicon Valley has a foreign-born founder or CEO. Think Sergey Brin of Google. Think Andy Grove of Intel. Think Jerry Yang of Yahoo.

BRAND: So Carl Guardino asks why have limits at all on the number of skilled immigrants allowed to come here. And as you move around Silicon Valley, you can see that immigration has permanently altered this once sleepy collection of suburbs and orchards. In a mini-mall next to a Peet's coffee, we have lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant packed with tech workers. They are not necessarily interested in the political process.

Mr. TIM LE(ph) (Tech Worker): Le. L-E.

BRAND: Okay. (Unintelligible)

Mr. LE: Yup.

JOHN(ph): John.

FRAULA(ph): Fraula.

NICO(ph): Nico.

BRAND: And what country are you from?

NICO: Hungary.

BRAND: Hungary. How long have you been here?

NICO: Five years.

BRAND: Where are you from?

JOHN: Menlo Park.

BRAND: Menlo Park.

JOHN: Yeah.

BRAND: Are you following the presidential race?

JOHN: Nope.

BRAND: At all?

JOHN: Nope.

BRAND: What about you guys?

Mr. LE: Not really.

BRAND: You're not?

Mr. LE: We're busy at work.


BRAND: Is there any candidate who interests you at all?

Mr. LE: Not really.


Mr. LE: That's why I'm not following it.

JOHN: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LE: You could say I'm pretty tired of voting.

BRAND: You're tired of voting?

Mr. LE: Yeah.

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