Fast Company

Silicon Valley's Wired Race for Governor

With Governor Schwarzenegger's approval ratings plummeting and a budget crisis looming, Californians are already looking for their next gubernatorial savior--and Silicon Valley is stocking the till.

The Valley used to be the state's political bank, a place where candidates--some, like the Governator, hailing from Hollywood--could go to bankroll their campaigns. Now it seems that with the economy floundering, many of NorCal's business elite want to put aside their ventures and get into the business of governing directly.

Three prominent candidates for next year's race for governor are former Valley folks, according to the Associated Press: Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay; Steve Poizner, an early GPS entrepreneur and current state insurance commissioner; and Tom Campell, a dean at UC Berkeley's business school. (Oh, and relatedly: former HP chief Carly Fiorino is reportedly considering a run for Senate, too.)

meg whitman 

Those three gubernatorial candidates will all vie for the GOP ticket, but the Democrats have their candidates lining up as well. The most well known is San Fransisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who announced on Twitter that he'd be running for Schwarzenegger's post as long as Sen. Diane Feinstein doesn't. (Meg Whitman is on Twitter too, but has only about 1,000 followers to Newsom's 290,000). Lining up behind Newsom for the mayoral seat is former venture capital partner Joanna Rees, who has intimated she'll run for the post in 2011. (Below, a Newsom-inspired Twitter graphic.)

Gavin Newsom on Twitter

With so many tech moguls putting their hats in California's political ring, the Web will be a-flutter with Obama-inspired networking initiatives--and the push will set a dizzying new bar for what it means to run a networked campaign.

No longer will it be good enough to just canvas for younger voters on Facebook and MySpace; smart candidates will bring their electioneering to a whole array of new boomer-oriented networks like TBD, Boomj, Eons and ReZoom. There will be the obligatory Twitter feeds and NewsFeed updates, sure, but there will also be Tumblrs like Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill's. Republicans will try to curry favor with growing political clearinghouses like TechRepublican and RedCounty blog while Democrats try to leverage their grassroots--50 State Blog Network--and get the attention of the established liberal powerhouses like TPM, HuffPo, and Firedoglake.

To accomplish this, they might begin by building their own networks using Web software like SoapBlox. They'll marvel at the ease of building a network of their own, and cringe at the painfully unproductive endeavor that is Facebook fundraising. They'll learn the basics from specialized online campaign training consultancies like NOI. They'll blog. They'll link. They'll start YouTube channels. They'll read new books like Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom and The Internet and Democratic Citizenship. And like President Obama is doing right now for the U.S. government, they'll try to figure out how to protect their whole array of digital initiatives from hackers and trolls.

Of course, the most wired candidate isn't necessarily the one who prevails. But the expectations set by California's tech-rich races will be formative in another way: they'll set the bar for Obama-style connected governance on the state level. (Obama's also pushing the bar higher himself, with his administration's just-launched Serve.gov site for community organizing). Already several candidates for governor are hitching their platforms on promises of improved, Web-enabled transparency. The people of California will expect no less.

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