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BURLINGAME, Calif. - The presidential candidates came staking claims to the political riches and entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley.


Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was the first to touch down. Attending a hotel fundraiser and mingling at a Burlingame diner Wednesday, he declared himself “the one Republican candidate with a legitimate chance to win California,” and assailed the tax policies of Democratic contender Hillary Rodham Clinton as a threat to the high-tech economy.


Hours later Wednesday, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards turned up at Google for a town hall meeting.


“America is increasingly divided by income and wealth,” Edwards told employees at the company’s Mountain View offices. “And that gap is not good. It’s not healthy for this country.” He pledged to increase average Americans’ access to the Internet by expanding cost-effective broadband technology to “create as much openness and democracy as we can” online.


Sen. Clinton, D-N.Y., who on Wednesday picked up the endorsement of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, will travel to Santa Clara Thursday to address computer industry executives at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. Later, Clinton will head to Sacramento for a private fundraiser at the Rancho Cordova home of real estate developer Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis.


The trio of scheduled appearances in Silicon Valley in less than 24 hours underscored candidates’ competition for the hearts—and dollars—of California’s venture capitalists, Internet entrepreneurs and technology innovators. With Silicon Valley decidedly in play, presidential contenders of both major political parties are lining up contributors and endorsers and chasing high-tech support.


Giuliani met with voters at the art deco Broadway Grill in Burlingame before being feted by 200 donors at a nearby Hyatt Hotel fundraiser led by prominent Saratoga venture capitalist Floyd Kwamme. Giuliani declared himself a rare Republican who can win in blue state California.


“I’m here as a candidate because I can help make California competitive in the general election,” he said.


Meeting later with reporters, Giuliani lit into Clinton for proposing increases in capital gains taxes and a rollback of President Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy. He charged that her plan would harm business growth in Silicon Valley.


“It would hurt our economy. It would hurt this area traumatically,” Giuliani said. “That kind of tax increase would see a decline in your venture capital. It would see a decline in your ability to focus on new technologies and new development. These are massive tax increases that Mrs. Clinton is proposing.”


Clinton, campaigning Tuesday in New Hampshire, charged that Bush’s tax cuts have primarily benefited the richest Americans while doing little to help middle-class families. She vowed to eliminate tax breaks that reward companies for moving jobs overseas, to cut back on subsidies for oil companies, and expand the earned-income tax credit to reduce poverty.


As Giuliani was criticizing Clinton in Burlingame, she was in Los Angeles locking up one of California’s most sought-after Democratic endorsements.


Villaraigosa, the popular mayor and a leading Latino political figure, announced his endorsement after Clinton toured UCLA’s Krieger Center preschool to tout her plan to make preschool available for all children in America.


“Her depth and breadth of experience is unmatched, and I’m confident she will be the kind of partner our cities and towns need from the federal government,” Villaraigosa said in his endorsement.


The New York senator is to appear Thursday at a Silicon Valley “Business Climate Summit” hosted by chief executives including Bruce Chizen of Adobe, Bill Watkins of Seagate Technologies and Mike Splinter of Applied Materials.


Before the Google audience, Edwards declared that eliminating poverty “is going to require all of us to take responsibility for a huge moral issue in this country.”


He also encouraged the high-tech workforce to make commitments to resolve “a crisis in climate change” by changing driving and consumption habits.


Meanwhile, Edwards, who has made several fundraising trips to Silicon Valley, has picked up the backing of venture capitalists including Andrew Rappaport and former Google engineer David desJardins. Edwards told the crowd he would like to take the influence of money out of politics and advocated public financing of elections.


“I’m not holier than thou on this,” Edwards said.


“But that doesn’t mean I believe the system is good,” he added later. “I think we need a president who says he is committed to the way we raise political contributions in this country.”

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