Al Gore's selection of Joseph Lieberman as his vice presidential running mate was warmly received by high-tech industry advocates. But his strong stands on key technology issues won't go far in differentiating the two major parties competing for the presidency.
Democrats in high tech cheered Lieberman's selection, saying Vice President Gore had selected a running mate with a long track record on policy and legislation, with established and industry-friendly positions on everything from high-tech visas to spam.
And high-tech Republicans were left somewhat disarmed by the choice, acknowledging that the Democratic senator from Connecticut was likely to be warmly received in Silicon Valley and other high-tech centers.
But almost nobody expects Lieberman's tech record to figure prominently in the coming race, even among industry insiders. And that's largely because of the industry's success in bringing both Democrats and Republicans around to seeing things its way.
Virtually unfelt two presidential elections ago, the computer industry's political muscle has molded the major parties' positions almost exactly to their liking. The presidential campaign of Texas Gov. George W. Bush has made headway in Silicon Valley by promising tort reforms and promoting school vouchers--an educational reform Bush and Lieberman support but Gore doesn't. But on major issues like research and development funding and increased visas for foreign workers, the major candidates' positions are in relative harmony.
Lieberman's stances on most high-tech issues mirror those espoused by both Republicans and centrist organizations that emphasize technology industry concerns. These groups include TechNet, an advocacy organization with both Republican and Democratic wings, and the New Democrat Network, which Lieberman helped launch in 1996.
"You could argue that Joe Lieberman has done more to help get the Democratic Party right on tech issues than any other member of Congress," said NDN president Simon Rosenberg, who co-founded the group with Lieberman. "On a whole host of issues, he's been there."
Silicon Valley executives with political leanings took a similar view of Gore's choice.
"He's a fantastic pick," Netscape and Loudcloud founder Marc Andreessen wrote in an email interview. Lieberman is "smart as hell (and) understands the technology industry extremely well."
Issues where Lieberman and tech industry advocates agree include basic research and development funding, a permanent tax credit for corporate research and development, increased H-1B visas for foreign workers with high-tech skills, normalized trading relations with China, and the maintenance of certain accounting procedures related to stock options and mergers and acquisitions that are favored by high-tech firms but are under review by the federal government.
In May, Lieberman signed his name to the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act (Can-Spam), legislation restricting the use of unsolicited commercial email, or "spam." The same month he launched the e-Government Web site, designed to collect public opinion on integrating the Internet into government services.
Lieberman's ample technology record may give him a higher technology profile than that of his Republican counterpart, former House representative and secretary of defense Dick Cheney.
But Cheney's supporters say his experience in President George Bush's cabinet and as current chief executive of Halliburton, an oil industry services firm, give him strong appeal among technology businesspeople.
"Cheney hasn't had a voting record since 1988, when technology was not much of an issue, so his high-tech record is a bit of a sleeper," said David Hanna, chief executive of Hanna Capital and high-tech co-chair for the Southern California Bush campaign. "But Cheney is a brilliant tech guy as he showed in what he did in the Defense Department as secretary. He was instrumental in the electronic and mechanical technology that moved our country forward. At Halliburton, what he really did was bring in a new CIO and completely revamped their technological underpinnings."
In one example of Cheney's savvy cited by the Bush campaign, Halliburton acquired Landmark Graphics, a 3D imaging software company that lets customers and engineers in different countries view real-time data about oil wells across the world.
"Between his tenure at the defense department presiding over an incredibly high-tech military and his leadership of Halliburton moving it from an old-economy firm to a new-economy, high-tech company, Cheney has shown he understands the need for sound technology policies, from education to research and development to tort reform," said Ray Sullivan, spokesman for the Bush campaign.
The industry's success in bringing both parties around to its point of view may neutralize whatever advantage Lieberman might have otherwise brought to the Democratic ticket in the technology industry. And according to most accounts, Gore needs a high-tech lift. Lampooned for claiming excessive credit for the early development of Internet technology, Gore has failed to keep Bush from marching on Silicon Valley and collecting huge sums from its well-heeled donors.
Bush's technology endorsers include Autodesk CEO Carol Bartz, Cisco CEO John Chambers, former Oracle president Ray Lane and Intel founder Gordon Moore.