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Hillary Clinton woos technology leaders in San Francisco

Mary Anne Ostrom and Julie Patel
San Jose San Jose Mercury News (MCT)
Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) spoke at a fundraiser in San Francisco, California, Friday, February 23, 2007. (Karen T. Borchers/San Jose Mercury News/MCT)

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Hillary Clinton took her turn Friday in the Bay Area's continuing march of presidential candidates, pitching to two key groups she's depending on for support: Progressive women and Democratic technology leaders.

Surrounded in San Francisco by an enthusiastic crowd of 1,000, mostly women who paid $250 or more for a boxed lunch, Clinton declared she is "not running as a woman candidate. I'm running because I think I'm the best person to hit the ground running."

Never mind the theme of the lunch was "Making History."

"From my perspective, as a woman executive who has run a couple of companies, I'd be thrilled to have Hillary as the first woman president," said Lorraine Hariton, a technology executive who helped organize Clinton events on Friday.

"She is her own person and is very interested understanding what's on the mind of people and Silicon Valley is a key area."

Arriving later in the afternoon at Google, Clinton met with technology executives from several companies who had been invited by the technology giant to discuss policy issues. She then met with Google employees.

CEO Eric Schmidt, in a room crowded with about 200 workers, asked the senator questions submitted by employees. Looking ahead to the presidential contest, she said "this is a marathon," then quipped.

"I'm going to be drinking a lot of vitamin water."

Clinton then stressed the importance of affordable high quality healthcare, recruiting more math and science teachers, developing alternative energy sources because it's "good for the planet but it can also be good for the economy."

From there, Clinton was scheduled to stay in California and head to Atherton and Woodside for two evening fundraisers, all part of an effort to reconnect with Democrats in a place where Bill Clinton enjoyed enormous tech industry support.

Although considered the frontrunner among Democratic candidates, and popular among women, Clinton is far from having wrapped up key Bay Area supporters. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who appeared in San Francisco and Portola Valley last Monday, has struck a chord among those opposed to the Iraq war and valley leaders looking for a fresh face.

In fact, some former Bill Clinton backers are now behind Obama, or have yet to make up their mind.

"She can draw on what Bill Clinton meant to the valley, it's definitely an asset. But I don't think it's immediately or fully transferable," said Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone, who first introduced Bill Clinton to the valley in 1990, and finds himself in a dilemma.

"It's really awkward for me. I like to be there early, but for me it's who can win the White House and I'm not convinced who that is at this point," Stone added.

Schimdt has been a big Democratic fundraiser, and former vice president Al Gore is a consultant to the company.

Before Clinton arrived, an employee asked Google co-founder Sergey Brin why no Republicans have been invited to the speaker series. Brin responded that former Bush Secretary of State Colin Powell has appeared. Larry Page, also a co-founder, added, "If you have any contacts, let me know."

Clinton, speaking of her memories of how the Soviet Union's Sputnik space craft generated interest in math and science careers, advised younger employees in the audience to look up Sputnik on Google.

In San Francisco, she counted some of the Democratic party's biggest fundraisers in the audience. At the historic Palace Hotel, the senator from New York and former first lady held court for more than an hour talking policy but also charming the crowd by singing "Happy Birthday" to a big contributor, answering questions about what role Bill Clinton would play in her administration and deftly handling a brief anti-war protest in the ballroom.

Some in the audience, however, were leaning away from Hillary Clinton. "Frankly, I'm impressed a little with the other guy," said Allison Puccione of Berkeley, referring to Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.. Puccione who paid $250 to attend the fundraiser said she still wasn't convinced that Clinton is anti-war enough for her tastes but was impressed with Clinton's speech.

Keenly aware that the Iraq war is unpopular among Bay Area Democrats, and that criticism is mounting over her refusal to apologize for her original vote to authorize President Bush to wage war, Clinton spoke in San Francisco about what she believes must happen.

She said she shares the sentiment of many "deeply, deeply frustrated" Americans over Bush's Iraqi policies but did not issue an apology.

"What I'm trying to do with our fellow Democrats," she said, "is to begin to rein this president in."

Clinton, who returned from a trip to Baghdad a month ago, said she opposes the Bush plan to escalate troops in Iraq and favors a cap, along with better training and equipment for any new soldiers deployed there.

She blamed the Bush administration for giving the Iraqi government "a blank check."

"Without leverage and without real consequences they're not going to act," Clinton said.

She said the Democratic-controlled Congress needs "to be ready to cut funding for either security or reconstruction of the Iraqi government if they don't begin taking steps to position themselves and defend themselves. We cannot continue to do it for them."

Leslie Bottorff, a venture capitalist, said she approved of Clinton's stance on the war. But as important to Bottorff, who asked Clinton during the Q&A to detail her plan for universal health care, was "her answer that she doesn't want to necessarily nationalize it."

In the question and answer period she was asked if she'd make her husband, former President Bill Clinton, secretary of state in her administration.

She laughed, adding she strongly believes in "the tradition of using former presidents as often as I can."

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