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Obama loses Silicon Valley to Clinton: Is anyone surprised?

Sen. Barack Obama was the darling of the tech crowd and the winner of online polls and primaries. So why did he lose to Hillary Clinton so badly in Silicon Valley?

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
3 min read

It must have come as a surprise to the boisterous Barack Obama supporters who were flagging down commuters at light rail stations south of San Francisco after work on Tuesday, but Hillary Clinton won far more votes in Silicon Valley than did her rival from Illinois.

In Santa Clara County, home to Google, Apple, Yahoo, Intel, HP, and Sun Microsystems, Clinton won a commanding 54.8 percent share of the vote.

Obama, by comparison, won only 39.3 percent. That's a remarkable margin of 16 percentage points. It's far more than the 9.5-point margin that Clinton claimed statewide, meaning Obama fared worse in Silicon Valley than he did in the rest of California.

By an 8-point margin, Clinton also bested Obama in neighboring San Mateo County immediately to the north, which is home to YouTube, Spoke.com, and Internet-monitoring firm Keynote.com.

Here's the chart:

California Secretary of State

So why did Obama--who's popular online and has been touted as a more tech-savvy candidate--lose the nation's high-tech heartland by an embarrassing 16-point margin? If he should have won anywhere, it should have been those two counties. Right?

Conventional wisdom would have said so. Obama collected more contributions from Americans working in the technology industry than his Democratic rivals, after all. He received $139,500 from Google employees, compared with Clinton's mere $61,400 in donations. Yahoo employees also preferred him over Clinton, if their donations are any indication. Obama can claim two Silicon Valley politicians, Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Anna Eshoo, as supporters; he's four times as popular on Eventful.com as Clinton.

Obama garnered a higher rating than Clinton on a recent scorecard compiled by a technology lobby group, and the video of his Google visit became far more popular than Clinton's. He even won a supposed "MySpace primary"--which, in retrospect, was probably dominated by overeager 15-year-old high schoolers.

The problem with the above analysis is that it assumes that clicks in online polls and credit card numbers typed into a Web form by political enthusiasts necessarily translate into votes. They don't, or at least they didn't here. Traditional politicking and on-the-ground organization still count for more, and that's one area where the Clinton machine excels.

As I wrote last month, it worked for the Clintons in New Hampshire, and it worked again even in Silicon Valley, one of the most tech-savvy places in the world. It shows once again that it's so much easier to click a mouse button (or type in a credit card number, or post to a discussion forum) than it is to register to vote and then actually do it. Even Obama Girl didn't bother.

It's too bad for Obama that the actual voting didn't take place online as well.

To be fair, Obama won higher percentages in other Bay Area counties. He bested Clinton in San Francisco (52.4 percent to 44.4 percent) and Berkeley and Oakland (Alameda County, 50.6 percent to 44.7 percent), and the high-income areas across the Golden Gate Bridge from the city (Marin County, 55.1 percent to 38.7 percent).

California Secretary of State

But those are liberal areas where you'd expect Obama to do well (he opposed the Iraq war, remember, and once indicated that he wanted to ban all handguns, a sentiment that many San Franciscans certainly share).

Remember those above charts the next time you read press releases about the supposed importance of a Facebook primary or hear fatuous claims about the number of "friends" a candidate has on MySpace. If those things mattered--they don't--we'd be talking about President Ron Paul today.