President Bush and Democratic rival John Kerry offered ideas Thursday to push the United States to the cutting edge on technology, with the hope of securing crucial political support in Silicon Valley and other high-tech regions.
Kerry, noting that the Internet was started with help from research in his home state of Massachusetts, said the United States needs a president who understands the needs of the high-tech industry.
"It's not a bubble; it is a breakthrough that will continue to lift our economy and our lives," the senator told an audience in the heart of Silicon Valley.
The Democratic challenger complained that the United States is losing its technological edge because of "neglect and hostility" under Bush's leadership, with the disappearance of 800,000 high-tech jobs and the nation's drop from 4th to 10th in the percentage of people using broadband. He said countries such as South Korea and Japan are now deploying networks that are 20-50 times faster than what is available in the United States.
Bush stressed the importance of technology in improving the economy and the lives of Americans in a speech at the Commerce Department where he repeated his goal of broadband access everywhere in the United States by 2007.
"Broadband, or what they call high-speed Internet, is critical in making our high-speed economy even more productive," said the president before observing a demonstration in which Dr. Craig Sable, a pediatric cardiologist, showed Bush the image of a child's heart while the patient was at Children's National Medical Center a few miles away in Washington, D.C.
The high-tech industry is a target of Republicans and Democrats. Leaders of the industry tend to be socially progressive, especially in Silicon Valley, but have a pro-business philosophy aligned more with Republicans. The companies' executives and their employees have contributed to both campaigns, and their votes could make a difference in swing states such as Washington.
Kerry tried to make an appeal to the industry's fiscal concerns, vowing to cut taxes for capital and research investments and increase federal spending on scientific and technological research. He said his plan could create more than 1.2 million jobs and be paid with $30 billion raised by speeding the transition to digital television and auctioning off the space created on broadcast airwaves.
He also got a boost from corporate icon Lee Iacocca, the former Chrsyler Corp. chairman who gained a reputation as a champion of innovation within the automotive industry. Iacocca announced his endorsement at Kerry's speech, and told the crowd he was switching alliances after cutting campaign ads for Bush in 2000.
"We forgive you!" shouted a Kerry supporter.
Iacocca said he has concluded that Kerry would create jobs and "be a great commander in chief."
"The bottom line is simple, we need a new CEO and president," Iacocca said.
Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt said the president has been endorsed by heavy-hitters in the tech industry, including the heads of Dell, eBay, Yahoo! and Cisco Systems.
The high-tech industry overall has historically divided its political giving almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans, a trend that has held even as the GOP has controlled Congress and the White House.
The industry association TechNet has Republican and Democratic branches and holds fund-raisers for candidates on both sides of the aisle. Microsoft employees combined are among both Kerry's and Bush's top donors, though founder Bill Gates gave $2,000 to Bush only.
Bush and Kerry each have received more than $1 million from people who work in the computerInternet industry, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Both candidates count high-tech CEOs among their volunteer fund-raisers. Microsoft chief financial officer John Connors and company attorney John Kelly each have raised at least $100,000 for Bush; CEOs Wade Randlett of Dashboard Technology and Michele Kraus of Digital Campaigns each collected at least $100,000 for Kerry.
The Democrat promised to use tax incentives and other economic steps to speed up the delivery of broadband service. He also promised to ensure service for first responders by the end of 2006.
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