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2016 rivals woo Silicon Valley

2016 rivals woo Silicon Valley
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Contenders for the White House are cozying up to Silicon Valley ahead of the 2016 elections.

Potential candidates on the Republican side are cultivating allies in the tech sector at a frenetic pace, making frequent trips to California for fundraising dinners, company tours and bull sessions.

With the presidential race expected to be a multi-billion dollar endeavor, the well-heeled executives of the tech world are in high demand — not only for their campaign cash, but also their ability to recruit the high-skilled talent needed for a modern campaign.

“All smart candidates want to associate themselves with the golden goose,” said Bruce Mehlman, head of the Technology CEO Council and a partner at the lobby firm Mehlman Castagnetti.

"If you want to be president, you need the nation to believe that you understand what makes the economy tick and you have ideas for driving growth.”

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While the San Francisco Bay Area is known for being a liberal stronghold, rising concerns in the tech industry about government spying, regulations and Washington gridlock could provide an opening for some Republican hopefuls. 

So far, Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Legislatures boost security after insurrection, FBI warnings Former Missouri senator says backing Hawley was 'worst mistake of my life' MORE (R-Ky.) has made the most aggressive attempts to win support among the Internet elite.

The libertarian lawmaker is widely expected to announce his bid for president in coming months, and is in the midst of opening an office in the Silicon Valley area.

“With the people who are considered likely to run, I think Rand is pretty far ahead,” said Reed Galen, a California-based Republican strategist. “I think he’s put more energy into coming out here and really cultivating relationships.”

“They’ve been pretty savvy on that front.”

Still, despite securing early support from industry icons such as PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, Paul could face some skepticism.  

The Kentuckian is one of the loudest congressional critics of government spying — a major issue for the tech sector, which has lost business due to revelations about National Security Agency (NSA) spying — yet he voted against a Senate bill to rein in the spying.

The bill did not go far enough to rein in the NSA, Paul said.

That argument might not hold water with tech companies, who lobbied hard for the legislation, viewing it as their last, best hope for change this year.  

Paul has also been critical of net neutrality, the notion that federal rules should require Internet service companies such as Comcast or Verizon to treat all online traffic equally. The concept has strong support among many in the tech sector.

The net neutrality issue could be problematic for Republicans across the board, as most of them have lambasted President Obama’s call for the Federal Communications Commission to reclassify broadband Internet service so that it can be regulated like a utility.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCruz, Cornyn to attend Biden inauguration For platform regulation Congress should use a European cheat sheet Former GOP congressman says he's leaving party: 'This has become a cult' MORE (R-Texas) has called the notion “ObamaCare for the Internet,” and Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioConfirmation hearing for Biden's DNI pick postponed McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time The Hill's Morning Report - Trump impeached again; now what? MORE (R-Fla.) has also opposed the plan.

Both senators appear to be making other attempts to win tech’s favor.

Cruz has also been one of biggest opponents in Congress of allowing states to collect sales tax for items purchased on the Internet — a proposal that has split the industry — and has loudly called for lawmakers to extend a widely popular ban on local and state taxes for Internet access. He was also one of the cosponsors of the NSA reform bill.

Rubio, meanwhile, has launched a number of legislative initiatives to get more of the nation’s airwaves into private hands, and has praised innovative companies such as Uber for going against the grain of local regulations.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), another leading 2016 contender, has won some favor with Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, who hosted a fundraiser for the governor last year and pledged $100 million to support schools in the city of Newark.

The Republican hopefuls could find themselves competing for support against former Hewlett Packard head Carly Fiorina, who says she is considering a presidential bid of her own.

It’s unclear how much support Fiorina would have in the tech industry, as she moved to Virginia some years ago while becoming a prominent figure in the GOP. She also still owes about $500,000 from her failed 2010 bid to represent California in the Senate.

The potential Republican candidate who might make the biggest splash in Silicon Valley is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. 

Bush “understands a lot of tech,” and has hit a nerve among many with his focus on education reform, said San Jose State University political science professor Larry Gerston.

“There’s a really wonderful connection that can draw the industry and a national imperative together. I would fully expect him to be making moves out here really soon if he jumps in.”

For Democrats, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMillennials and the great reckoning on race Biden chooses Amanda Gorman as youngest known inaugural poet Can Biden encompass the opposition he embodied? MORE’s flirtation with a presidential campaign has paralyzed many other would-be contenders. Several major Silicon Valley donors have already pledged support if she runs.

Salesforce co-founder Marc Benioff and his wife, Lynn, have contributed $50,000 to the pro-Clinton Ready for Hillary super-PAC, and other icons such as Craigslist founder Craig Newmark have said they would be onboard.

Clinton has made multiple trips to Silicon Valley in recent months, taking time to visit the headquarters of Twitter, Facebook and Google. 

In February, she will give the keynote address at the Watermark Silicon Valley Conference for Women, an event focused on professionals.

Perhaps the biggest question for Clinton is, in the language of tech startups, whether she can come across as an innovator rather than a political dinosaur.

“If she succeeds it’ll be because she’s the iPhone of the party,” said Mehlman, “and if she fails it’s because she’s the PalmPilot.”