Presidential candidate Richard Lamm's decision to pick Silicon Valley veteran Ed Zschau as his Reform Party running mate this week is intended to win the support of voters in the high-technology industry who are not committed to either end of the political spectrum.
Lamm campaign strategists say Zschau's mix of high-tech business and political experience is a "savvy combination" that has a national constituency in high-tech hot zones such as Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, and Route 128 near Cambridge, Massachusetts, as well as the valley. Zschau, a former California congressman, had recently retired from an executive position with IBM before being tapped as a vice presidential candidate.
The strategy is to court the socially moderate and fiscally conservative voters who represent much of the high technology industry but are beholden to neither mainstream political party. Those voters, who do not fit neatly into any political category, have been neglected as the Democratic and Republican parties cater to their respective bases of traditional support.
These are "the same people who went with [Paul] Tsongas in 1992 and [John] Anderson in 1980," Lamm campaign press officer David Daley said. "There's an awful lot of people like that."
Both Tsongas and Anderson, of course, were notably unsuccessful in their bids for the presidency. But regardless of their political inclinations, it is unclear what kind of impact this bloc of swing voters will have in any national political contest.
Still, analysts believe that Silicon Valley is important in terms of perception, if not actual numbers. A source close to a top California official said the high-tech flavor of voters are not big in number, but can be good at setting the tone of the issues. People recognize Silicon Valley as the cutting edge of economic growth and the future, the source said, so it helps to have that on your side, even though quantitatively it's less influential than voters from other industries, such as agriculture or entertainment.
The Lamm campaign at least has timing on its side. Silicon Valley support for Bill Clinton in 1992 waned when he vetoed a bill last December that made it harder for investors to file securities-fraud lawsuits in federal court. Congress eventually overrode the presidential veto and the bill became law. (Clinton came back to California this week to mend fences by saying he opposed state Proposition 211, which industry alleges would undercut the new law's limitations on stockholder lawsuits.)
Republican challenger Bob Dole, on the other hand, is largely viewed as being unsophisticated on matters of technology and is saddled with the legacy of former President George Bush, whose alienation of some sectors of key Silicon Valley led to support for Clinton in the last election. Moreover, Daley said, "the not-welcome sign is out for those moderate [Republicans] on social issues."
Enter Ed Zschau. From Los Altos, California, near the heart of Silicon Valley, Zschau does not have extensive political experience, but he is no novice either. He has served two terms as Congressman, starting in the early 1980s, and ran for Senate in 1986, reportedly spending more than $11 million only to lose by three percentage points to former presidential candidate Alan Cranston.
Campaign officials stressed that Lamm and Zschau represent a new third-party ticket that is more evolved than that of Ross Perot in 1992. "The difference" Daley declared, "is political experience."
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