When overworked Silicon Valley innovators retreated to the Nevada desert a week ago for the annual Burning Man festival, some met an unexpected reveler.
There, among the drug-infused performance art, stood a buttoned-down policy wonk from Washington preaching small government to the Bay Area creative class.
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, challenged left-coasters not to dismiss him as another dull D.C. politico when he marveled over the event's ceremonial "Burn" of a giant sculpture. He took to Twitter to laud Burning Man's "wonder of creativity and hard work."
FOR THE RECORD:
GOP and Silicon Valley: In the Sept. 8 Section A, the caption for a photo accompanying an article about Republican politicians' efforts to ingratiate themselves with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs referred to Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader, as a senator. —
Creativity and hard work also describe conservatives' efforts to make inroads with the Bay Area's innovation economy.
Democrats haven't yet lost their advantage, but Bay Area techies are writing increasingly sizable checks to GOP candidates and causes, sometimes with great fanfare, as when Facebook Chief Executive
Some tweaking of their brand and deft maneuvering on issues where Democrats are failing to deliver for tech has opened new doors for the GOP.
"I come out quite often," said Sen. Orrin
Later that day, Rep.
"We can disagree on social issues," Chambliss said of the dynamic between his caucus and tech entrepreneurs, "but if they agree with us 60% or 70% of the time, they are going to lean our way financially and otherwise."
Longtime alliances between Democrats and tech have frayed on several issues.
A proposed overhaul of patent law, a priority for Silicon Valley, cruised through the GOP-controlled House this year only to be squashed by Senate Majority Leader
In state houses, Democrats are championing online consumer protection efforts that expose tech companies to new liabilities. At the behest of organized labor, Democrats are pushing measures that undermine ride-sharing firms such as Uber, one of the most lucrative new businesses spawned by Silicon Valley.
"Balancing the need for innovation against entrenched special interests has become a difficult thing for the left," said Joe Lonsdale, a venture capitalist. Lonsdale, a relative political neophyte with the liberal social views typical of the Bay Area, has been donating mostly to Republicans, including hosting a fundraiser in his home for McCarthy.
"A lot of Republicans have economic views that are more in line with the way many of us here see the world," he said.
The GOP has been courting donors such as Lonsdale in some not-so-subtle ways. An online "Petition in Support of Innovative Companies Like Uber" was launched recently by the Republican National Committee. Sen.
Playing both sides of the aisle, Uber recently hired David Plouffe, formerly a top aide to President Obama, as its senior vice president for policy and strategy.
Rubio earlier endeared himself to Silicon Valley by pushing for
In contrast to the showmanship of his colleagues, McCarthy has been toiling quietly but persistently to cultivate relationships between tech firms and the GOP rank and file, coaxing them, as one tech insider put it, to "meet each other and see that neither one is a three-headed monster."
The congressman regularly briefs tech CEOs through conference calls arranged by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. "The CEOs love it," said Carl Guardino, the organization's president. "They are used to elected officials talking at them, but Kevin doesn't dominate the call. He listens a lot more than he speaks. He gives concise, thoughtful answers."
McCarthy brings delegations of colleagues to tour tech companies. He lured Musk onto Capitol Hill for a private chat with GOP leaders and then persuaded the innovator to headline a lecture series in Bakersfield. When Musk's SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket, McCarthy swept aside grumbling from colleagues about all the tax money the company spends to declare the event a "pivotal moment for the future of spaceflight."
That evolving GOP view toward innovation subsidies was on display Wednesday when one of Silicon Valley's heavily subsidized firms, hydrogen fuel-cell manufacturer Bloom Energy, welcomed Rep.
Republicans, though, are not just targeting the corporate giants of the Valley. A popular stop on their West Coast circuit is Engine, a nonpartisan advocacy group that brings policymakers together with tech startups. Members were dazzled this year by the passion with which a little-known Kansas City GOP congressman,
"A lot of people in the Democratic party are taking the tech community for granted," said Julie Samuels, executive director of Engine. "The truth is these are voters who are pragmatic and forward looking, and they are up for grabs."