Obama talks to the tech crowd at Google town hall

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

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(11-14) 21:49 PST Mountain View, Calif. (AP) --

Barack Obama on Wednesday stopped by Google, in what has become a presidential rite of passage, to face an admiring but skeptical audience.

Obama, who trails Hillary Rodham Clinton in national opinion polls, held up the success of the young Internet search engine to allay concerns about his own lack of experience, when an employee asked how he could convince his friends to vote for the 46-year-old candidate.

Obama replied that Google's founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, showed what young people can do. They started Google in their 20s, while still in graduate school at Stanford.

"Sergey and Larry didn't have a lot of experience starting a Fortune 100 company," Obama said. "I suppose when they came in and started talking to (Google's current general counsel) Dave Drummond about starting a company, he could have said, 'They don't know what they're doing.'"

The answer was a hit with the young Google employees, about 1,500 of whom packed an employee cafeteria to hear Obama speak, even if he is behind among California voters.

The Google appearance was sandwiched between fundraisers in Marin County and at the Atherton home of former Controller Steve Westly, who made a fortune at eBay Inc.

In the evening, Obama spoke to several thousand supporters at a low-dollar fundraiser at San Francisco's Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, where he was introduced by Alice Walker, author of "The Color Purple."

At the rally, Obama said President George W. Bush had failed as president.

Obama also took an apparent swipe at Clinton, without naming her, for "running the same old textbook, conventional, by-the-numbers Washington campaign" and "avoiding answering tough questions, because we're afraid that our answers won't be popular."

He said, "if we are really serious about winning this election, seizing this moment, then we can't live in fear of losing."

Obama came to Silicon Valley armed with a high-tech plan touting "Net neutrality," the principle that Internet traffic be treated equally by carriers. It's a big deal for Google, which wouldn't want to have to pay more to ensure fast data transfer over the Internet for its users.

Clinton also supports it.

To distinguish himself on tech issues, Obama promised to use technology to make government more transparent. He said he would set up systems so that every federal dollar could be tracked, along with government contracts and the ways that lobbyists seek to influence legislation.

Obama said he would appoint a chief technology officer to oversee all of this.

But, at Google, listeners seemed more focused on practical issues, like whether the Democratic senator from Illinois could win.

Once Google CEO Eric Schmidt ceded the microphone to the crowd, the first question came from a man who said that, unlike many of his young colleagues, he was old enough to have voted several times in presidential races for Democratic candidates who didn't wind up in the White House.

"I'm tired of losing," he said to laughter, adding that he wanted to know if Obama would demonstrate the political acumen of former President Bill Clinton or the comparative weakness of Al Gore and John Kerry.

"What have you learned from Clinton that is going to make you win?" he asked, "What have you learned from Gore and Kerry and all those guys that you're going to avoid, so that history doesn't recur?"

Obama said the only way Democrats can win is if they stay true their values and not compromise under fire from Republicans.

"Democrats lose when they are attacked and because they don't know where they stand, they end up getting defensive instead of going on the offensive," he said.

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