High Stakes in High-Tech Country

There is a race for dollars going on in Silicon Valley and it's not about funding the next high-tech innovation, semiconductor or plasma computer monitor.

This race is all about funding the candidacy of the next president of the United States.

In the last 24 hours no less than three presidential hopefuls have wandered through this beautiful green valley, speaking with supporters and gathering up high-dollar checks.

Clinton Looks Toward 'Tommorow'

On Thursday, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., made her high-tech pitch at a gathering of CEOs and senior officers at the headquarters of Applied Materials, the largest manufacturer of semiconductor components in the world.

"I believe we ought to hit the restart button on the 21st century," said Clinton, gearing her policy speech toward their favorite issues and using lingo to match.

Clinton delivered her speech from a new age Applied Materials lectern and in front of a large blue screen repeating the mantra "New Jobs for Tommorrow."

Thankfully, the former first lady was in front of the brightest minds of Silicon Valley and not before the judges of the 80th Annual Scripps Spelling Bee in Washington. The correct spelling, as the spelling champs gathered from around the country would almost certainly know, is t-o-m-o-r-r-o-w.

Misspelled mantras aside, the discussion was hosted by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a lobbying organization for the high-tech industry, which does not endorse or contribute to individual candidates.

Clinton outlined a nine-point agenda meant to increase research and development, create a stronger work force in science, engineering, technology and math, and upgrade what she called the "innovation infrastructure" in America.

The plan includes a $50 billion Strategic Energy Fund, a sort of next-generation Apollo project to gather the best minds from academia, the private sector and government to find ways to make the U.S. energy independent.

"The fire that was sparked here in this valley has made such a difference that it can't just be allowed to sputter out. There has to be a partnership again between our government and our great companies," Clinton said.

Former Sen. John Edwards also made the high-tech rounds this week. Edwards visited Google headquarters Wednesday. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was also here Wednesday. And Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., flies in this weekend and will hop between four separate private fundraisers.

High Stakes Politics in High-Tech Country

For the young millionaires and billionaires who call this place home it is an intoxicating, exciting time to dabble in politics. Many young high-tech entrepreneurs are new to the political game and are unsure which candidate to support at this early stage.

"The Silicon Valley community seems to be fairly undecided," said Talat Hasan, a high-tech entrepreneur who, with her husband, Kamil, hosted a cocktail party fundraiser for Clinton at her Saratoga home Thursday.

Hasan told ABC News she very much supports Clinton, but that won't stop her from attending an Obama fundraiser Saturday and donating to his campaign as well.

"I am very much for Sen. Clinton," she said. "Only because I think she has the best experience of any of the candidates on either side, on both sides of the aisle, and has the best grasp of the issues. But having said that, I still think Sen. Obama is a very exciting, rising political star in our party and so we want to get to know him better."

The Hasans' support could be critical to any candidate. The couple, leaders in the Indian American community here, raised $1.5 million for John Kerry back in 2004.

Feeding the 'Fire'

In a private meeting before her public speech, Clinton talked with leaders of prominent high-tech companies such as Adobe, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Palm, Seagate Technology, Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

They may not all be household names but they are the movers and shakers in this part of California.

Carl Guardino, the president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, told ABC News the group had invited several candidates to address the CEOs in an effort to learn more about their positions on matters of particular concern to the high-tech industry.

"We understand the realities, that the candidates need funding," he said. "But what's refreshing is, instead of Silicon Valley being the ATM machine of presidential politics when we can engage them on policy instead of just making cash withdrawals, they're also making cash deposits in Silicon Valley."

But making "deposits" can help earn more "withdrawals" from the Silicon Valley money machine. Clinton supporters said the campaign expected to do well here in the second quarter even though some wealthy donors have already given the maximum amount allowed by federal law.

"I certainly find a lot of responsiveness when I call up friends and ask them if they want to get involved," said Clinton fundraiser and senior adviser Mark Chandler.

Follow the Money

In the first three months of 2007, Clinton led the 2008 pack in fundraising in the region.

According to CQ's PoliticalMoneyLine, (www.politicalmoneyline.com), Clinton raised $703,500 in the valley between Jan. 1 and March 31.

Obama was second, raising $591,948 in the same period. Edwards pulled in $193,469.

And it's not just Democrats.

On the Republican side, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney took advantage of business connections and old friendships. According to PoliticalMoneyLine, Romney raised $474,125 from addresses here in the first quarter, compared to $120,701 for Giuliani and $91,300 for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

McCain visited Google earlier this month and has held at least three fundraisers in nearby San Francisco.

On Wednesday, Giuliani celebrated his 63rd birthday with a fundraiser hosted by prominent venture capitalist Floyd Kwamme at the Burlingame, Calif., Hyatt. The room was packed with venture capitalists and CEOs.

Earlier, as he signed autographs at a restaurant, Giuliani suggested Clinton's tax proposals would hurt the San Francisco Bay area by limiting the flow of venture capital for investment in high-tech industries.

"It would hurt our economy. It would hurt this area traumatically," Giuliani said.

There are sharp elbows when it comes to soliciting high-tech dollars, but deep-pocketed donors are taking it in stride and opening their wallets.

"While some people would say it's expensive to participate in the political process, I think that's trivial compared to the cost that we all suffer if we don't participate," Chandler said. "And people are participating because they know it's important to have leadership that knows how to drive innovation, drive economic growth and competitiveness."

For her part, Hasan said her friends seem more interested in the race this time around, as compared to 2004.

"There is a feeling that our country has some significant problems -- domestically and internationally -- and people are very concerned about them and they want to really understand [the candidates' positions] this time."