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Carly Fiorina touts McCain's tech credentials

July 7, 2008 | 11:48 am
Carly Fiorina campaigning for John Mccain

UPDATED 3:35 P.M.: The Christian Science Monitor, which hosted today's press breakfast with Carly Fiorina, just posted some edited video of the event. Here's the link.

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When it comes to presidential politics, Barack Obama has all the buzz on the Internet. He has raised record amounts of money online. He hired a Facebook co-founder to help leverage social networking for his White House push. And just today, Nielsen Online declared that the Illinois Democrat had an online "head start" (PDF download) on his Republican opponent, John McCain. Obama drew nearly twice as many blog mentions in June, and his website attracted 2.3 million unique visitors in May, compared with 563,000 for McCain's.

But although McCain admitted to TechCrunch's Michael Arrington that he was computer illiterate, the Arizona senator has a big name making the case that he's the right choice for the high-tech industry: former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina.

McCain knows the importance of technology to the economy and has an economic plan to encourage the type of innovation the industry thrives on, Fiorina said this morning in Washington, D.C. "That's why I think he has been so consistently on the side of issues that impact our innovative capability," she said. "He has consistently said we should make the R&D tax credit permanent.... He has consistently said we should ban permanently Internet taxation."

Fiorina was touting McCain's new economic program during a breakfast with journalists sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. She has become such an ardent and visible supporter of McCain that her name has appeared frequently on the list of McCain's possible vice presidential choices. While that may be a long shot given her lack of government experience, others have talked up Fiorina as a potential Commerce secretary should McCain win the presidency.

Reporters couldn't let Fiorina go without pressing her on the veep question ...

... asking her if a business person who has never held elective office or a government post would be an appropriate choice to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. 

Fiorina showed that she's getting the hang of the politics game. She artfully sidestepped the question of any future role for herself at the top of the Republican ticket ("John McCain's going to have a lot of highly qualified people to choose from," she said.) while at the same time making a subtle case for herself. Fiorina cited the governmental experience she has gained since leaving HP in 2005, including co-chairing a women's initiative (PDF download) at the State Department and serving on the external advisory board for the Central Intelligence Agency.

As for the relationship between business and government, Fiorina said they're closer than people think. She said:

I would certainly not consider myself an expert on government, but what I can tell you is that all aspects of the federal government reach out to business people.... Because there are some common elements in organizational challenges, there are some common elements in how you bring people together to make them more efficient and effective. And, yes, I think there are things that government can learn and borrow from business.

I asked her about McCain's opposition to so-called network neutrality, proposed government rules that would prohibit Internet service providers from charging websites for faster delivery of their content. McCain is on the side of the cable and phone companies, which argue that the rules would squelch investment in new broadband networks. Obama has been a big supporter of net neutrality, a huge issue among online activists that adds to his Internet buzz factor, leading some (OK, it was us) to ask if Obama is a Mac and McCain a PC.

Fiorina said McCain understands the importance of the Internet and sees government-mandated net neutrality as a hindrance.

There's no question that it is to our economy's benefit to have more Internet access, more broadband capability, to have this country more wired, so to speak, as we move forward.... I think John McCain understands the way to get that done effectively is by principally allowing business to get it done as opposed to a big government-mandated program. And business won't get it done unless they see sufficient return on their investment.

Arrington endorsed McCain in January as the best Republican tech candidate (Obama got the Democratic nod). Arrington, whose political clout in Silicon Valley we recently profiled, said McCain had the right views on many technology issues, and "has surrounded himself with enough technically savvy individuals" to avoid mistakes.

Fiorina is clearly one of them. And she may remain at his side, in one way or another, if he wins the White House.

-- Jim Puzzanghera

Puzzanghera, a Times staff writer, covers tech and media policy from Washington, D.C.

Photo: John McCain and Carly Fiorina at a campaign event in Michigan in January.

Credit: Charles Dharapak / Associated Press

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