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A Big Role for Silicon Valley in California Governor’s Race

Monday, April 6th, 2009

The Tech Companies That Candidates Most Resemble
By Calbuzzer Jude Barry

Silicon Valley is known around the world as the epicenter of technology and innovation. For political candidates, it’s a good place to raise money and, perhaps more importantly, establish yourself as the Next Big Thing. This is particularly true for presidential candidates. In the mid-‘80s, Gary Hart tapped into Silicon Valley; his 1984 logo even had a Silicon Valleyesque digitized look.

In the ‘90s, Bill Clinton was the hot new start-up. He trumped George H.W. Bush with high-profile endorsements from Silicon Valley CEOs during the homestretch of the 1992 election, demonstrating that an Arkansas governor, not the incumbent president, understood the problem was “the economy, stupid.”

As president, Clinton emphasized the association by seating Apple CEO John Sculley next to First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton at the 1993 State of the Union.

Al Gore furthered his connection to Silicon Valley as VP, 2000 presidential candidate and now as a Nobel-prize-carrying private citizen continues to remain active in the community as an Apple board member, Google adviser, and venture capitalist.

John Kerry benefited greatly from the Clinton-Gore network and his own, out-raising President George W. Bush in Silicon Valley by approximately $5 million to $2 million in 2004.

Candidate Barack Obama was the prototypical Silicon Valley contender in 2008. He personified a disruptive technology company: new, young, and a challenge to the status quo. This, of course, translated into dollars. Obama not only raised significant money in Silicon Valley (by the end the primary season, he raised more in Northern California than Southern California), he used Silicon Valley technology and social networking to shatter all fundraising records, raising half a billion dollars online.

While it’s clear that many presidential candidates have used the cash and cachet of Silicon Valley to establish themselves as serious challengers, the high tech imprimatur hasn’t worked as well in statewide California elections.

Former Congressman Ed Zschau, a product and representative of the tech community, narrowly lost a 1986 U.S. Senate race to Alan Cranston (who, for all his liberal credentials, had authored the first bill to cut the capital gains tax – a favorite Silicon Valley cause). Tom Campbell, who served in Zschau’s congressional seat and as a state senator, lost badly in a 2000 U.S. Senate challenge. Former Controller Steve Westly, an early eBay executive, narrowly lost the 2006 Democratic primary for Governor.

But 2010 will be different. The Republican primary now boasts three candidates from Silicon Valley: Campbell, Meg Whitman, the former eBay CEO, and Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, a former high-tech entrepreneur. Without a dramatic new entrant, the Republican gubernatorial candidate will have roots and a message based in Silicon Valley.

Whitman is laying the early claim to technology leaders with high-profile endorsements like John Chambers (Cisco) and Carol Bartz (Yahoo).

On the Democratic side, no candidate has similar connections or the network that naturally forms from working in Silicon Valley. But the candidates need not cede either Silicon Valley money or image. With the economy being an ascendant issue, as it was in 1992, Democratic candidates should borrow something from the Bill Clinton campaign playbook and demonstrate to Californians that they understand, as any governor must, one of the important economic engines of our state.

Further, Silicon Valley is morphing into the clean-tech capital of the world. Last year in the U.S., more silicon was used for solar panels than computer chips. Any candidate who recognizes that and can articulate how this will be a solid foundation of California’s economic future where jobs improve, not degrade, the environment, will have a strong appeal to voters.

Who will be the Silicon Valley candidate in 2010? Many candidates have the potential. So here’s a look at the likely gubernatorial candidates and some thoughts on how they might personify certain companies. You decide whose stock will rise or fall.

Democrats:

Jerry Brown – Apple
No Silicon Valley company has re-invented itself more successfully than Apple. From Lisa and Macintosh to Ipod and Iphone, Apple has changed with the times and frequently led the market. You can say the same about Brown and his political career. The one-time leftist, futurist California Governor became the centrist, realist Oakland Mayor.

Gavin Newsom – Facebook
Gavin hasn’t announced he’s in the race for governor yet. And Facebook hasn’t launched its IPO. But Gavin is counting on the same type of young, social-network energy that made Facebook successful. He has more Facebook supporters than any political figure in California.

Antonio Villaraigosa – Yahoo
Yahoo and Villaraigosa have had rough going lately. Yahoo has a new CEO and is laying off workers. Villaraigosa had weak showing in his mayoral re-election last month. But both have terrific market share. Yahoo despite its challenges remains one of the most visited sites. Likewise, the mayor of LA, despite questions about viability is the best known political figure in the largest media market in the state.

John Garamendi – Sun Microsystems

The Lieutenant Governor has been a party standard bearer for decades and is known as a solid and competent Democratic leader who has made policy contributions from health care to workers comp reform. Sun is not a household name, but in Silicon Valley the company has a reputation for strong technology contributions (workstations and Java). However, both are lagging. Garamendi trails known Democrats in the polls and Sun stock is at historic lows.

Republicans:

Meg Whitman – eBay
She’s eBay, of course. She led the online auction company from start-up to new-economy poster child and grew revenue from millions to billions. But eBay isn’t just about selling stuff you find at garage sales. The company created a real online community and a new economy. Whitman will talk about this as much as the jobs she helped create. Like eBay, she will have the marketing budget to just about tell any story she wants.

Steve Poizer – Intel
Poizner made his money and name in Silicon Valley by starting SnapTrack, a company that put GPS receivers in cell phones – over 700 million of them. That’s almost as ubiquitous as Intel, the chip-maker that dominates its market. Like Intel, Poizner isn’t known for being particularly exciting – just everywhere. While he may not have the CEO support that Whitman does in Silicon Valley, he has been cultivating the Republican grassroots both here and around the state.

Tom Campbell – Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich, & Rosati
Campbell served on the Harvard Law Review board, clerked for the Supreme Court and was a tenured law professor at Stanford at the age of 34. We know he’s smart and thoughtful. He demonstrated his legal and financial skills in Congress and in Sacramento as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s finance director. Given his intellectual prowess, he would be the premiere Silicon Valley law firm: Wilson Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati. Both the firm and Campbell are wired throughout Silicon Valley’s tech companies and venture firms.

Jude Barry is a Democratic political consultant from Silicon Valley and was, until last week, working for John Garamendi’s prospective campaign for governor. As of this writing he is unaffiliated in the race.