Bush could find Silicon Valley support

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s (R) decision to dip his toe into the 2016 waters could draw significant interest from the influential and deep-pocketed tech sector.

Silicon Valley has traditionally skewed Democratic, but many industry analysts say that some executives’ allegiances are up in the air and may be open to supporting a GOP candidate who is friendly on taxes, immigration and other issues important to the sector.

Bush may be just that man.

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“I think he’s a Republican that a lot of technology people could get behind,” said Reed Galen, a Republican campaign consultant based in California.

While the tech sector isn’t likely to deliver an overwhelming number of votes for any Republican, potential candidates have a lot to gain from executives' checkbooks as well as the “cool factor” that comes from hobnobbing with some of Silicon Valley’s biggest names.

Bush’s support for reforming the nation’s immigration and education systems are the biggest factors that could help him win over Silicon Valley.

The former two-term Florida governor has been a supporter of immigration reform, a prime focus of the tech sector that bemoans limits on the high-skilled coders and developers that companies can bring into the U.S.

He has also pushed for education reform and in 2008 started the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a national advocacy group for new standards, modes of judging teachers and other strategies to improve education. Education has become a pet issue for tech leaders like Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, who has given $220 million to support school efforts in Newark, N.J., and the Bay Area.

Those same two issues, however, might earn Bush significant opposition among members of his own party, who worry about foreign workers pushing down U.S. wages and national standards being imposed on local schools.

According to Jason Roe, another California-based GOP strategist, that’s just proof of an independent streak that Republicans will need in order to capture the White House in 2016.

“We’ve got to modernize,” Roe said. “I think his willingness to stand out on education and immigration demonstrate that he is willing to challenge traditional orthodoxy, which is what lends to his appeal to non-Republicans.”

Bush has made some inroads with Silicon Valley of late.

This summer, for instance, he was a featured guest at a dinner reception for female tech and business leaders hosted by Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook executive and “Lean In” author.

He also used Facebook to announce he will “actively explore” a presidential bid, as opposed to a more traditional news conference or press release, which could signal a certain amount of digital savviness.

But he isn't the only one who looks to be competing for Silicon Valley’s favor.

In fact, Bush has to catch up with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has made a more aggressive outreach effort and begun setting up an office in the region.

Paul’s libertarian lean and vocal opposition to government surveillance — another big issue for tech companies, who fear that the public’s loss of trust in their products is costing billions of dollars — have made him a regular presence in the region.

In the next few months, Bush may try and take a bite out of that advantage.

“We’ll see what he does next year,” Galen said. “It wouldn’t surprise me to see him out here sooner than later.”