5 races for tech to watch

5 races for tech to watch
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The tech industry is closely watching a number of key House and Senate races.

Candidates across the country are debating issues ranging from privacy and encryption to the massive hacks of Yahoo and Democratic groups. And many powerful lawmakers on tech issues are finding themselves in the toughest races of their careers.

Silicon Valley has also been spending big, making its presence known in congressional fights around the country.

Here are five competitive races that could have big implications on tech policy in the next Congress.

 

North Carolina Senate: Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrTrump assures storm victims in Carolinas: 'We will be there 100 percent' Overnight Energy: Trump rolls back methane pollution rule | EPA watchdog to step down | China puts tariffs on US gas Graham: Mueller is going to be allowed to finish investigation MORE (R) vs. Deborah Ross (D)

Tech is closely watching North Carolina, where Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R) is in a surprising fight for his political life against Democratic challenger Deborah Ross.

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Burr angered many in Silicon Valley with his stance on encryption, backing law enforcement officials seeking easier access to encrypted devices.

Burr and the panel's top Democrat, Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinThe Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Grassley wants unredacted version of letter from Kavanaugh's accuser Gillibrand: Kavanaugh accuser shouldn't participate in 'sham' hearing MORE (D-Calif.), co-authored legislation that could force companies to unlock devices or build in backdoor access.

Many tech and privacy advocates see an ally in Ross, a former ACLU lawyer. Major tech players including Laurene Powell-Jobs, the widow of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, have donated to her campaign, while Burr has been virtually frozen out by Silicon Valley donors.

A representative at a major tech company told The Hill that his company is frustrated with Burr on privacy issues. But many tech companies have also been hesitant to publicly challenge a committee chairman and have held back from contributing to Ross.

Polls show Burr and Ross running neck and neck in what the Republican has called "the "toughest" race of his career.

 

Wisconsin Senate: Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonKavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow House panel advances DHS cyber vulnerabilities bills MORE (R) vs. former Sen. Russ Feingold (D)

In Wisconsin, Russ Feingold is looking to regain his seat and oust incumbent Ron Johnson.

The race isn't as competitive as North Carolina, though, with polls showing Feingold with a healthy lead. But the tech implications are big, with privacy advocates confident Feingold will be a strong ally. He was the only lawmaker to vote against the Patriot Act in 2001.

Former Feingold staffers have said they expect him to be sympathetic to tech and privacy advocates over encryption and surveillance and suggested to Reuters that he could seek a seat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Johnson has been treading carefully over encryption issues. In January, he expressed skepticism over Burr and Feinstein's encryption bill, saying he wasn't sure if it “wouldn't do more harm than good.”

But tech interests have flocked to Feingold in the money race. According to OpenSecrets.org, companies from the communications and electronics industries has given Feingold $553,997 compared to $382,235 for Johnson.

 

California's 49th District: Rep. Darrell Issa (R) vs. Doug Applegate (D)

Darrell Issa, whose ties to the tech world run deep, is facing the toughest race of his political life.

He won praise from Silicon Valley in 2011 for speaking against the Stopping Online Piracy Act (SOPA). And in 2015, he spoke out against the FBI's efforts to force Apple to help unlock iPhones.

Issa has received significant donations from tech interests. Google ($12,500), Netflix ($5,000), eBay ($3,500) and Amazon ($2,500) are just a few of the companies donating to pro-Issa PACs.

But Issa could be hurt by his embrace of GOP nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpLondon terror suspect’s children told authorities he complained about Trump: inquiry The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Trump to nominate retiring lawmaker as head of trade agency MORE who has found little support in Silicon Valley. Issa is also in a district with changing demographics and polls show him in a tight race against Dem Doug Applegate.

Applegate has been hitting Issa over his support for Trump. In August, a poll commissioned by Applegate’s campaign found Trump had a 60 percent unfavorable rating in the district.

Applegate has also challenged Issa on his tech record.

“The first thing I have to say that Issa’s involvement in tech is political calculus,” Applegate told The Hill in an interview. “He hasn’t done anything on the broken immigration system or done anything substantial on H-1B visas."

Issa's campaign dismissed those claims.

"The Congressman's background is steeped in technology. He started a communications tech company. He was president of the Consumer Electronics Association,” Calvin Moore, an Issa campaign spokesman said.

“Congressman Issa has been a leader on these issues since long before coming to Congress.”

 

Texas's 23rd District: Rep. Will Hurd (R) vs. former Rep. Pete GallegoPete Pena GallegoGOP candidate scores upset win in Texas state Senate runoff Koch group launches digital ads in tight Texas House race Iraq War vet wins Texas Dem runoff MORE (D)

In his first term, Will Hurd turned heads in the tech world.

As chairman of the House Oversight subcommittee on information technology, he spoke in support of encryption and introduced the Modernizing Government Technology Act, which passed the House in September. The bill aims to help replace agencies outdated information technology.

Those efforts have won him support from many in the tech community. In 2015, the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) named Hurd tech legislator of the year, praising him as an “important voice” on encryption and hailing his work on cybersecurity and privacy bills.

Tech donations have followed. The communications and electronics industry gave Hurd $233,397, according to OpenSecrets.org, compared to $45,406 to his rival Pete Gallego (D).

Gallego represented the district for one term before being ousted by Hurd in 2014.

In their rematch, Hurd has raised almost $2 million more overall but the two are polling closely in a district that has flipped several times since 2004.

 

California's 17th district: Rep. Mike Honda (D) vs. Ro Khanna (D)

The race between Honda and Ro Khanna is a big one for tech. The district, California's 17th, covers the heart of Silicon Valley.

Honda was seen as out of step with many of tech's concerns and in 2014 many industry leaders rallied around Khanna, who was narrowly defeated.

This time the two Dems are facing off in the general election thanks to California's jungle primary rules.

Khanna's scored endorsements from bold-faced names, including Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Google executive Eric Schmidt and others.

Tech money is also flowing to Khanna, who got $194,020 from internet companies, including $88,870 from Google’s parent company Alphabet, $27,250 from Salesforce.com, and $13,500 from Facebook.

Honda received only $13,650 from Alphabet and aside from another $10,000 from Intel, no other tech donors show up on his top contributors list, according to OpenSecrets.

But Honda's supporters downplay Khanna's close relationship with tech.

“The fact is that Honda hasn’t been really going after Silicon Valley money,” said Honda campaign donor Margaret Chai. “His focus is on more than just that.”