Rand Paul, Ted Cruz woo libertarian techies

Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul talked tech at a conference in Washington on Thursday.

Washington (CNN)In a week when Jeb Bush saw negative headlines over his attempt to show off a tech-savvy persona, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz courted an audience of libertarian-leaning techies, waxing poetic about the atrocities of big government on issues like net neutrality and peer-to-peer start-ups like Uber and Lyft.

The two senators were key attractions at a conference in Washington hosted by LincolnLabs, a group of entrepreneurs and digital operatives that hosted a similar event in Silicon Valley last year.
"I love tech," Cruz said, kicking off his speech to the crowd and not-so subtly mentioning that both of his parents were computer programmers.
    The 2008 presidential election saw an infusion of tech with politics, and President Barack Obama's savvy operation has widely been referenced as the precedent for harnessing data and digital models for political campaigns. Many of Silicon Valley's biggest names -- and their wallets -- are considered potentially big power players in the 2016 presidential election.
    Bush, whose last campaign took place in 2002 -- long before the political world got smart on tech -- has attempted to show that he's still ahead in the digital realm.
    "I was digital before digital was cool I guess," he said in December, noting his prolific use of email as governor of Florida from 1999-2007.
    His Blackberry can be seen in his official portrait.
    But two incidents this week revealed Bush might not have caught up with modern times.
    In an effort this week to show his transparency and accessibility, Bush released 250,000 emails to the public, but the dump included some personal information like names, emails and even Social Security numbers -- a huge no-no for online documents. The error was first reported by the tech blog, The Verge.
    Bush's digital efforts were also in the spotlight after his team was forced to let go of their chief technology officer one day after announcing the hire. The aide resigned after it was made public that he deleted part of his online footprint, including tweets that referred to women as "sluts" and commented on gay men at the gym.
    Critics were quick to pounce on the dust-ups this week and question whether Bush was ready for a presidential campaign at a time when digital advances help expose even the tiniest errors.
    Bush's kerfuffles did not surface in any of Thursday's panel discussions or speeches at the conference, which took place at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington. But they provided a noticeable contrast to the fluency with which Paul and Cruz spoke in addressing topics like Internet privacy and online start-ups.
    This was also not the kind of crowd that goes gaga over the daily drama of national politics, nor was it a kitschy, swag filled convention with people exhibiting their apps or running around with selfie sticks (cue Obama joke).
    There was no enter or exit music as speakers took the stage, no gimmicky videos. Rather it was a sober, more academic conference with lengthy, no-frills discussions about the intersection of politics and the tech sector -- and namely, how government regulations get in the way of entrepreneurship.
    "Which has greater innovation: the United States Post Office, or Facebook and Twitter? Which has greater innovation: Taxi commissions in local cities, or Lyft and Uber? Every time you put unelected bureaucrats in charge of the market, they stifle innovation," Cruz said.
    In his traditional form, the Texas Republican paced back and forth and spoke about net neutrality and Internet sales tax with just as much gusto as if he were firing off a rant on Obamacare. He especially sought to drive home the point that the private sector is far better at providing services than government.
    After his speech, he stuck around for a nearly hour-long panel with a crew of mostly millennials working at start-ups.
    Paul, meanwhile, took a more laid back approach, slouching in a chair on stage as a moderator, TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington, casually quizzed Paul on issues ranging from bitcoin to the federal bank to internet service providers or "monopolies," as Paul called them.
    Paul, whose political operation has started to open an office in San Francisco and has aggressively courted donors and supporters in Silicon Valley, sought to define himself as someone who can bridge people at a time of hyper-partisanship.
    The Kentucky Republican noted that he got raucous applause from the audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington last year, then delivered the same speech at the University of California, Berkeley, and got a similar response.
    "There is a unifying belief in personal liberty," he said. "I think there are a lot of people who just want to be left alone."