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Postman on Politics

Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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April 17, 2008 5:31 PM

Former HP CEO stumps for McCain

Posted by David Postman

Former Hewlett Packard chairman and CEO Carly Fiorina, one of this year’s political celebrities, says Sen. John McCain has an opportunity to become 2008’s high-tech candidate.

That plays against type, I think, given the Clinton/Gore political bloodlines that successfully wooed much of the technology industry. But Fiorina, in Seattle today, said McCain has long supported key issues for the industry, including more visas for foreign workers, making a federal research and development tax break permanent, banning Internet sales taxes and opposing increases to the capital gains rate.

“I find it amazing the Democrats are proposing to double the capital gains tax rate,” she said. “Stock options are a critical part of what makes Silicon Valley go.”

In March, the Republican National Committee named Fiorina “Victory Chairman” for 2008. That covers the RNC’s presidential fundraising and get-out-the-vote efforts. She is a major surrogate for McCain on the campaign trail.

In recent weeks, McCain’s campaign has stressed his economic policies. But given that there is a looming recession in the final year of the Bush administration, doesn’t conventional wisdom say that the party in power will take the blame from worried voters?

I think you’d agree the conventional wisdom in this election has consistently been wrong. The conventional wisdom was that John McCain could never win the nomination. Secondly, I think what John McCain can do is continue to do what he is focused on in the last few weeks and talk to the American people about what he thinks is going on in the economy and what he intends to do to strengthen the economy. …

I’d put his understanding of the economy up against Obama’s or Clinton’s any time.

Fiorina said part of that economic plan is to maintain the Bush administration’s free trade policies. She said that provides a huge opportunity for McCain at a time when “Democrats are becoming so protectionist in their language.”

“They have blocked the approval of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which is a terrible step backwards,” she said. Free trade, she said, has been good for the high-tech industry and lowers prices for American consumers. But she said “companies have to be strong enough to compete.”

McCain supports retraining programs and other aid because he recognizes that some workers are hurt by free trade, she said.

But you can’t roll up the borders. As history demonstrates, becoming protectionist is one sure way to tip a recession into a depression.

McCain and Fiorina first connected in 2000 when the then-HP exec was lobbying for more visas for foreign tech workers. She thinks McCain has a moderate view on immigration.

I think Senator McCain won the primary because the voters rejected the extreme policies on immigration that some in the Republican Party were putting forward. John McCain has been very forthright in saying, ‘America is a country of immigrants, that immigration is important to our vitality and our prosperity as a nation. But he also believes we have to be a nation of laws so we have to know who is coming to the country. We can’t have a border that is totally open and we have to deal with people who come here and break the law.

I told Fiorina that there was plenty of commentary that suggested McCain strengthened his hand in the Republican primary season by getting tougher on immigration, not by sticking to his moderate position that was proven unpopular among the base.

She said that “when someone like Tom Tancredo is rejected as strongly as he was”, that is evidence Republicans were rejecting the extreme position.

This is highest political profile Fiorina has ever had. And it’s not all about McCain. In California she is talked about as a possible candidate for governor. And she is increasingly mentioned as a possible member of a McCain cabinet, or even as vice president on the McCain ticket.

I had read enough of her polite demurrals on those subjects not to ask whether she wants to be vice president - that’s up to McCain - or any other job in the future. (The job now is to get McCain elected.) But I did ask if all that talk becomes a distraction.

It’s only a distraction if people ask about it. And usually people ask once and they go on to the real meat.

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