TIME 2016 Election

Why Rand Paul Is Schmoozing in Silicon Valley

Faith And Freedom Coalition Holds Policy Conference
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) addresses the Faith and Freedom Coalition's 'Road to Majority' Policy Conference at the Omni Shoreham hotel June 20, 2014 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

As Kentucky Senator Rand Paul heads to San Francisco Thursday for a series of events over the weekend, he’s looking for two things above all: cash and geeks. Paul hopes to dip into the wealth of deep pocketed tech entrepreneurs, like PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel who donated more than $2.7 million in support of his father Ron Paul’s 2012 long shot presidential run. He also hopes to recruit tech savvy talent to work on his campaign, reports Politico.

As the scion of the country’s most prominent libertarian, Paul may find Silicon Valley to be fertile ground. Though the Silicon Valley tech scene has tended to support Democratic candidates and champion socially liberal causes, the libertarian streak that runs through the community has deep roots.

Many in the tech world embrace what author Steven Levy dubbed the “hacker ethic,” a value system stemming from the earliest days of computers that prizes transparency and voluntary collaboration and fundamentally distrusts any central authority.

With startups like Uber and Airbnb recently encumbered by regulatory moves at the state and local level, Paul’s libertarian vision of limited government oversight in the market has appeal. And Paul’s public displays of opposition to the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance programs speaks both to Silicon Valley’s libertarian bent and to concern for the bottom line of tech titans like Google and Facebook, both of which could see business hurt by NSA snooping.

But Rand Paul is a Republican, not a registered Libertarian, and he has staked out positions that put him at odds with Silicon Valley big wigs, most notably on immigration. Paul voted against last year’s grand “Gang of Eight” compromise on immigration reform, a measure championed by Fwd.us, the Silicon Valley lobbying group led by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who would like to see more visas available for the kinds of highly-skilled workers Facebook likes to employ.

“So far he’s tried to have it both ways,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres told TIME. “There might be some alignment on some libertarian issues but there certainly is no alignment based on immigration reform.”

With unaccompanied minors flooding across the U.S.-Mexico border in recent weeks, a Gallup poll out Wednesday reveals that immigration now tops the list of problems Americans see facing the country. If he is to make powerful allies among the tech titans of Silicon Valley, Paul will have to strike a delicate balance between the Zuckerberg set and the Tea Party border security hawks that first propelled him to national prominence.

In recent days, the Senator has reportedly met privately with both Thiel and Zuckerberg.

“Maybe they’re trying to woo him to their side,” Republican strategist Michael Hudome said. “He’s not to be underestimated.”

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