Tech mogul on his quixotic Senate bid: It’s not just about gutting Elon Musk

O’Dowd, founder and CEO of Green Hills Software and self-proclaimed Santa Barbara billionaire, also confirmed that his team includes revered Democratic publicist Mark Putnam and party veteran John Blair is managing the campaign. Tim Maltin, a senior public affairs official in London, is on board to help the rookie Democratic politician with the press and social media, O’Dowd said.

California’s political graveyard is littered with the carcasses of wealthy self-funded candidates with no government experience who bring bold names to help them in their big-money races but suffer humiliating defeats. The main questions swirling around O’Dowd aren’t whether he can win, but whether he wants to, what victory looks like for him and whether he’s complicating things for his fellow Democrats in the process of road.

In the interview, O’Dowd emphasized that it would be a single-themed campaign. He has vowed to speak only about Tesla and more broadly about how the security of US power grids and water treatment plants is deeply vulnerable to cyberattacks. In a sign of the unconventional nature of the broadcast, a source close to O’Dowd’s initial $2 million TV ad buy said it would cover not just four major media markets in California, but 36 states in total. . The approach appears to confirm earlier expectations from people close to the software mogul that he was simply running to jeopardize Tesla.

O’Dowd wouldn’t say he was using a Senate campaign solely as a way to draw attention to his pet issues, as people familiar with his plans expected him to do. He also wouldn’t explicitly say if he was actually trying to win the contest. Qualifying for the ballot and officially running gives him a higher degree of First Amendment protection for his loaded claims about Tesla and makes it much more likely that TV stations will air the anti-Tesla spots produced by his team.

O’Dowd said he was indeed trying to win voter support, describing the Senate campaign as a test of how much the issues would resonate with Californians.

“I’m going to win votes,” he told POLITICO. “And every vote I win is someone who thinks my problem is more important than [these] other issues.”

Putnam’s first ad for O’Dowd is dubbed “Unsafe at Any Speed,” a tribute to the 1965 bestseller by longtime consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader. It opens with a brief disclaimer and an image of O’Dowd, who is identified by his company title. The ad then cuts to a nearly minute-long compilation of Tesla cars crashing and nearly veering into things, and includes audio from passengers and drivers appalled at the apparent malfunctions.

Even before beginning his spending barrage, O’Dowd had drawn the attention of jittery Democrats in California and Washington, including some who fear his campaign could hamper what until recently was seen as a march. carefree until Election Day for the junior state senator. , Alex Padille. In California, the first two voters, regardless of their party, qualify for the second round. And some operatives have suggested O’Dowd’s run could backfire by making him a target of top Democrats, who now have enough motive to dig into the business tycoon’s motives, finances and personal life. to derail his early candidacy.

While Padilla is well regarded among Democratic voters, he remains relatively unknown and a runoff against a fellow spendthrift Democrat could bring an unpredictable outcome. At a minimum, it could force him and the national party to commit resources at a time when they are fighting on key battlegrounds to control the chamber.

Padilla has about $7 million in the bank for his first Senate run, and California’s expensive media markets require heavy spending to move the needle ever so slightly. A spokesperson for the senator reiterated in a prepared statement that “Senator Padilla is focused on continuing to provide service to Californians and getting their vote.”

Others close to the senator said last week that even if O’Dowd’s offer resisted legal challenges, his tactics would undermine confidence in the democratic process because they were driven by commercial inducements. On Monday, O’Dowd denied that his motives were tied to profit. He said Green Hills does not make self-driving software, and he has no financial interest in whether Tesla’s comprehensive self-driving software succeeds or fails.

“It’s not about competition, it’s about protecting our families and communities from bad software that just doesn’t work,” he said.

When asked how long he planned to stay on the air, O’Dowd replied, “It depends on how long it takes.” His team plans to reevaluate spending after the first week, said the person who previewed the ad buy.

O’Dowd said “immediate success would be to become fully self-sufficient [Tesla vehicles] off the road.”

“I would give up if we were completely self-sufficient on the road” for an extended period, he added.

Tesla representatives did not respond to a request for comment. The company said its fully self-driving cars would be safer, reduce transport costs and expand mobility.

On Monday, one of the people familiar with O’Dowd’s efforts speculated that he had decided to publicly give the appearance of running for office because admitting the alternative would immediately undermine his overall goals of target Musk and Tesla.

Musk is an increasingly nasty figure in Democratic circles. But there’s no guarantee that running on a purely anti-Tesla platform will garner sympathy and ultimately support from Democratic voters. The public’s generally warm views of popular electric cars and the company’s efforts to fight climate change could endear them to Musk, even if others shudder at his views on opposing unions at his auto factories and car factories. higher taxes on the wealthy.

O’Dowd said he hopes the campaign — starting with national ads — will make it clear to Americans that his goal is to make computers safe for mankind. He said even more than a nuclear attack, he fears that one day someone clicks a computer mouse in Moscow or Pyongyang and “half the country will collapse”.

“This country could be taken back to the 1820s by someone coming in and taking over our software,” he said.

Asked directly about Democrats’ concerns that he could be a spoiler for Padilla and his party, O’Dowd continued to bring the conversation back to Tesla and the tech security issues he says are prevalent.

“Everyone thinks it’s not a problem and I don’t understand why,” he said.


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