Clinton Owns Silicon Valley’s Vote Now That Bloomberg’s Out
Over the weekend, early Facebook employee and venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya told an audience gathered at San Francisco’s LAUNCH Festival that if Michael Bloomberg were to run for president, he would put his firm, Social Capital, on hold to join Bloomberg’s team.
“If he does run, the same team that helped build Facebook to one billion users would do our best to activate the entire United States to put him in the White House,” Palihapitiya told the crowd. “I think we’d be successful.”
Well, it’s not going to come to that. Yesterday, Bloomberg said that he would not pursue the presidency, writing that he feared his third-party candidacy risked handing the election to Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. “That is not a risk I can take in good conscience,” Bloomberg wrote.
The announcement put to rest months of speculation over Bloomberg’s potential candidacy. But it also preempted what might have been a bitter battle between Bloomberg and Hillary Clinton for the Silicon Valley vote—and more importantly, its money.
One of Them
That Silicon Valley elites would support Clinton has been a foregone conclusion throughout the 2016 race so far. Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google parent company Alphabet, has funded two companies—The Groundwork and Civis Analytics—that are both working with the Clinton campaign. Laurene Powell Jobs, widow to Steve Jobs, has donated to Clinton’s campaign and plowed $25,000 into the Ready for Hillary Super PAC back in 2014. Also in Clinton’s corner are Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, venture capitalist John Doerr, Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs, Box CEO Aaron Levie, Tesla founder Elon Musk, and others.
While individual donors like Larry Ellison have backed other candidates like Marco Rubio, and Bernie Sanders has won over rank-and-file tech workers, until now, Clinton has accrued the most big-name tech donors.
“Her support was very strong in the Valley,” says Manny Yekutiel, Clinton’s former deputy finance director for Northern California. “From Day 1 there was a lot of strong support for her.”
But according to Bradley Tusk, who ran Bloomberg’s mayoral campaigns in New York City and was vetting his presidential run, a Bloomberg candidacy might have seriously tested some of the tech industry’s allegiances.
“I had very few people say to me, ‘Oh I can’t because of Hillary,’” said Tusk, who also runs the political strategy firm Tusk Ventures, of his preliminary conversations with top tech leaders. “Mike is a tech entrepreneur. He is literally one of them. So I think he presents a different choice than occurred to any of them.”
Yekutiel says he did hear some chatter about Bloomberg’s run, but that it was typically “less about an alternative to Hillary and more an alternative to the candidates on the right.”
On Her Side
It stands to reason that tech leaders would line up behind Bloomberg, though. During his time as Mayor of New York City, Bloomberg cultivated the New York tech industry, turning it into the second largest economic driver in the city. He jumpstarted the Made in NYC program to foster this digital economy, and struck a deal with Cornell University to open Cornell Tech on New York’s Roosevelt Island.
According to Tusk, the Bloomberg team planned to bring this same tech-centric approach to the presidential campaign. For instance, because Bloomberg may not have gotten the support of unions, as Democratic candidates typically do, or of evangelicals, as Republican candidates typically do, Tusk and his team were seeking the backing of the sharing economy and its vast fleet of workers. The idea was that the Bloomberg campaign would pay these drivers, delivery people, and others to be their field staff, campaigning for Bloomberg as they went about their routes.
“Rather than advertising on Craigslist, which is what normally happens, we said: These people are already organized. They already exist. There’s a rating in terms of their ability to do well with other people,” he says. “It would have been really interesting.”
Tusk says he had early buy-in from several sharing economy companies (he won’t say which ones, but use your imagination). Now that Bloomberg has said unequivocally he won’t run, however, it seems that Clinton’s role as the tech industry’s candidate of choice is once again cemented.
And make no mistake, this election is very much on tech leaders’ minds. This week, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Google founder Larry Page, and Elon Musk are all reportedly attending the conservative American Enterprise Institute’s World Forum, where the 2016 race is, no doubt, the central issue. As technology becomes ever more important to hot-button campaign issues like the economy and national security, getting the tech industry on your side is arguably more important for presidential candidates than ever. For now, at least, it looks like that support is Clinton’s to lose.