In Iowa, he backed ethanol subsidies. In New Hampshire, he vowed his first moves in the White House would be to cut taxes and boost arms spending. In South Carolina, he won blessings by urging sexual abstinence for teens.
But when Texas Governor George W. Bush's fast-moving, fast-talking campaign rolls into Silicon Valley on June 30, a new side of the GOP front-runner will be on display: George Bush, Valley Boy.
Although Bush's own business tastes run to oil and sports franchises, as governor, he has been rubbing shoulders with the elite of Austin's "Silicon Hills"--home to many software and semiconductor companies. Bush aims to tap that network as he prepares to fight GOP rivals and Al Gore for high tech's heart, mind, and wallet.
For months, a group led by ex-Netscape Communications Chief Executive James Barksdale and Austin software entrepreneur Steve Papermaster has sent tech delegations to meet with Bush at the state house. "Bush gets the New Economy," Papermaster says. "On our key issue--improving education--he has an exceptional record."
"KINDRED SPIRITS." The payoff could come on June 28, when Bush unveils his high-tech advisory committee. Among those expected to sign on: National Semiconductor CEO Brian L. Halla, Advanced Micro Devices CEO W.J. Sanders III, Oracle Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey O. Henley, Apple Computer co-founder A.C. Markkula, Intel Founder Gordon E. Moore, Cisco Systems Chief Technology Officer Judith L. Estrin, and Applied Materials CEO James C. Morgan.
Valley financiers will be well represented. Bush has signed up top venture capitalists, such as Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers' E. Floyd Kvamme, Menlo Park rainmaker Timothy Draper, and fund-raiser Robert Grady of San Francisco's BancBoston Robertson Stephens. "We're kindred spirits," says Halla. "If we're looking for the emergence of a second Silicon Valley, it's in Texas."
Bush hopes to rattle Gore with the depth of his Valley support. Beyond that, he will join Republicans in the not terribly subtle wooing of the techies. Hill GOP leaders staged a love-in with industry leaders on June 14-15. And on June 23, House Republicans rolled out an "E-Contract with America" that vows to keep tech out of Big Government's clutches.
Bush won't be above a little E-pander when he appears at two Silicon Valley fund-raisers. He will stress his hands-off approach to E-commerce and Net taxes, trumpet his support for free trade, immigration, and legal reform--and slam Gore's stand on key industry initiatives.
The Vice-President is in a bit of a bind. He opposes a Senate plan to limit lawsuits stemming from the Y2K software bug. He sided with law-enforcement officials in backing strict curbs on exports of data-scrambling technology. And many tech execs still fume over Clinton's 1995 veto of a bill that provided relief from lawsuits against companies that allegedly overstate their prospects. The veto was overridden, but Gore is getting the backlash. "It was a real slap in the face to growth companies," says Dell Computer CEO Michael S. Dell, another Bush backer.
How will Gore respond to Bush's tech barrage? "Let Bush do his Santa Claus tour of the Valley," says a Vice-Presidential adviser. "Gore has a 20-year record on tech, and that beats the `gimme-list' approach." Perhaps. But there's no question that Bush's moderate social stance and his tech-friendliness could make him a player in Silicon Land. That may put Gore in the position of defending his tech record in a state he should have safely tucked away.