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Googlers Quiz Obama at Town Hall

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LAURA KURTZMAN | November 14, 2007 11:02 PM EST | AP


MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — When the CEO of Google turned the microphone over to his employees after Barack Obama discussed his tech agenda, one worker who said he had voted for several losing Democratic presidential candidates got right to the point.

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

"What have you learned from Clinton that is going to make you win?" the man 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 replied that Democrats win when they stay true to their values and not when they 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," Obama said.

When another employee asked how he could persuade his friends to vote for the 46-year-old Illinois senator, Obama held up the success of the young Internet search engine to allay concerns about his perceived lack of experience.

Obama said Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page showed what young people can do. They started Google in their 20s, while still attending 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 Google's young employees, about 1,500 of whom packed a company cafeteria to hear Obama speak during a visit that has become a presidential right of passage.

The Google appearance was sandwiched between fundraisers in Marin County and at the Atherton home of former state Controller Steve Westly, who made a fortune at eBay Inc. Later Wednesday, Obama was to speak at a low-dollar fundraiser at San Francisco's Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.

Obama came to Silicon Valley 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 would not want to have to pay more to ensure fast data transfer over the Internet for its users.

Clinton also supports the concept.

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

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