A Campaign Stop With a Hip, Innovative Air

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a possible independent candidate for president, spoke to workers at Google's Silicon Valley headquarters in June.
New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a possible independent candidate for president, spoke to workers at Google's Silicon Valley headquarters in June. (By Paul Sakuma -- Associated Press)
By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 22, 2007

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- In a visit earlier this year to the Googleplex, the WiFi-connected, eco-friendly headquarters of Google, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) called the company "the best place to work in America."

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who stopped by in May, said that Googlers, as Google's more than 12,000 employees are known, are "the future of this nation."

The Googlers, for their part, are used to the attention from presidential candidates eager to add a hip, online-savvy, we-get-it aspect to their résumés, as well as to wrap themselves in the aura of one of the nation's great business success stories.

Besides Clinton and McCain, Gov. Bill Richardson (D) of New Mexico, former senator John Edwards (D-N.C.), Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) and New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a possible independent candidate, have come to Mountain View to take a closer look at a corporate culture that is the epitome of Silicon Valley self-confidence and innovation.

Eric Schmidt, Google's chief executive, called the question-and-answer sessions "a job interview with the American people."

"And you're also sort of interviewing with Google," Schmidt told McCain at a packed town hall meeting. "It's hard to get a job at Google."

Access to visiting politicians is typically limited in the tech world to corporate executives, in private meetings. Not so at Google, where the town hall meetings are open to all employees and posted later on the Internet, on Google-owned YouTube.

The candidates learn about products such as Google Earth, a satellite imaging program; get an introduction to what's referred to as the company's Googley culture; and discuss a wide range of topics (atheism, Russian relations, Internet access in Africa) in hour-long sessions that can seem a long way from Iowa and New Hampshire.

The visits are a strategic move for Google, which has increased its presence in Washington in the past year and shown signs of increasing political sophistication. Known as a left-leaning company -- Googlers donated overwhelmingly to Democrats in the 2004 elections -- it formed Google NetPAC last fall and has given to Republicans, including Sens. Arlen Specter (Pa.) and John E. Sununu (N.H.).

In March, it co-sponsored the annual Politics Online conference of George Washington University's Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet and presented a workshop, "Google on the Campaign Trail," to online political operatives. To publicize its policy positions, it launched the Google Public Policy Blog last month.

For Google, the visits are an opportunity to let politicians know of its interests, which include Net neutrality -- the principle of Internet service providers treating all Web sites equally -- and immigration laws that would allow more skilled workers into the United States.

For candidates, a Google stop is part of the obligatory Silicon Valley tour. But even in the Valley, birthplace of many prominent high-tech companies and home to an affluent voting bloc, the company holds a special symbolism.

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