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By Kenneth T. Walsh

As the first nominating caucuses and primaries approach, the Democratic presidential candidates are warming to the issues of science and technology. It's no wonder. They see the scientific and technological community as a prime constituency to be mined for both votes and campaign contributions. And they see a growing opportunity to set themselves apart from George W. Bush in the process.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean made his rivals sit up and take notice by actually using Internet technology to organize his supporters, raise money, and reach new voters. In May, he started Howard Dean TV on the Web, utilizing updated broadband technology. And his campaign Web site allows voters to see his speeches and other appearances whenever they wish. Dean says this is a way to circumvent the “media filter” and let potential backers size him up for themselves.
Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts has some interesting ideas, too. He wants to end U.S. dependence on foreign oil in 10 years by developing and using renewable energy technologies and improving the nation's energy efficiency. Kerry calls for a national initiative on the scale of the Manhattan Project to accomplish these goals. Bush, in contrast, favors increasing domestic production of fossil fuels and the use of nuclear energy.

Kerry has also endorsed the creation of a trust fund to use oil and natural gas royalty payments to invest in the development of energy-saving technology and alternative fuels such as ethanol. And he emphasizes the potential of hydrogen fuel in the U.S. economy by aiming to put 100,000 hydrogen cars on the road by 2010 and 2.5 million such vehicles on the road by 2020.

Kerry also would invest $1 billion in incentives for auto manufacturers to redesign their factories to produce vehicles that achieve fuel-economy standards much higher than those in effect today.

On the policy level, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut is pushing an ambitious initiative to revitalize the high-tech industry via targeted tax cuts and increased federal spending on research and development and math and science programs. Lieberman, who was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000, is banking on the creative forces in the business world to boost economic growth, create jobs, and raise household incomes. “We can do all that without an expensive new government bureaucracy, without big federal mandates or complicated laws and regulations,” Lieberman says.

The Connecticut senator is proposing an $80 billion package that includes investment tax credits of 20 percent for businesses that buy new information technology; eliminating the capital-gains tax for new investments in small companies; doubling spending for the National Science Foundation to spur research and development; and making the federal R&D tax credit permanent. He also favors a national initiative to recruit and retain more qualified math and science teachers and expand the workforce in science and engineering. He wants to pay for his programs partly by repealing upper-income tax cuts favored by President Bush that haven't taken effect yet.

For his part, Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri calls his energy package an “Apollo 21” plan, referring to President John F. Kennedy's initiative to put a man on the moon in 10 years. Gephardt's goal is to achieve energy independence within 10 years in the 21st century and in the process employ 2 million people in new plants and businesses. Gephardt says Bush relies too much on increasing domestic oil production, including drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

The Missouri congressman would create new tax incentives to make fuel-cell and hybrid vehicles more affordable; create new tax benefits for energy-efficient homes, offices, and appliances; and fund research into renewable energy technologies and creating markets for them. He would give a 30 percent tax credit to businesses that generate renewable power.

These are some of the ideas being floated out on the campaign trail. And it's clear that no single candidate has cornered the market on science and technology issues. There is a serious debate going on, and that's a good sign for Campaign 2004.

Kenneth T. Walsh is the chief White House
correspondent for
U.S. News & World Report.
He can be reached at


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