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Internet whiz puts skills to work for GOP

Cyrus Krohn left his high-level, high-paying job at Yahoo to return to politics in D.C.

January 20, 2008|Jim Puzzanghera | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — You could say that Cyrus Krohn helped lay the groundwork for political use of the Internet.

As an intern for then-Vice President Dan Quayle in 1992, Krohn was asked to run an ISDN telephone cable under the rugs from one end of the Old Executive Office Building to the other so computers could talk to one another.

"I was literally helping wire the vice president's office," recalled Krohn, now 37. "It just struck my curiosity. What's ISDN? What does it do?"

From there, it was like a magic carpet ride into the high-tech industry.

Krohn combined networking ability -- the old-fashioned, face-to-face kind that politics thrives on -- with expanding technological skills to land jobs at CNN, online magazine Slate, Microsoft Corp. and finally Yahoo Inc.

But last year Krohn made an unusual career U-turn, returning to Washington politics.

He left his job as Yahoo's director of election strategy to run the online operations of the Republican National Committee. Exchanging Yahoo's posh Santa Monica offices for the RNC's more modest facilities on Capitol Hill, Krohn is trying to boost the GOP over the Democrats in the battle for Internet dominance.

Online political consultants have praised Krohn for an overhaul of the RNC website, GOP.com, adding features such as social networking and mobile alerts.

"I kind of worry about the fate of the party if we don't harness new technology to convey our message to the voters of tomorrow," Krohn said recently over burgers at a restaurant near RNC headquarters, his boyish looks fitting in easily with the crowd of mostly twentysomething political aides.

People usually don't trade the perks of the high-tech industry to be a foot soldier in the political world, particularly when things were as good as they were for Krohn at Yahoo.

He rode his bike to work every morning, could zip home for lunch with his wife and two young children and was able to sit down to a family dinner most nights.

"I was making gobs of money. I was sitting on a lot of stock options. I was living 12 blocks from the ocean," Krohn said. "I couldn't have been happier."

But something started gnawing at him. In his helping 2008 presidential candidates get their message out on Yahoo, Krohn found himself working mostly with Democrats such as Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama. A lifelong Republican, Krohn didn't want to see either of them in the White House.

"I'm spending all my time helping Democrats," he complained to his friend, Chuck DeFeo, general manager of the conservative political website Townhall.com. DeFeo had a suggestion: earn a lot less money and work a lot harder for the Republicans.

"To Cyrus' credit, he didn't say no immediately," DeFeo said. "He saw the opportunity to step up and do something for a cause greater than himself."

That attitude is a far cry from high school, when Krohn was interested in one thing: sports.

"He wouldn't take exams, wouldn't study. He was totally uninterested in academics," said his father, Charles, a former Army officer and Vietnam War veteran. "But he did very well in lacrosse."

Unlike many future tech executives, Krohn wasn't a geek. He was a goalie.

His athletic skills helped him get into Lynchburg College. But while focusing on stopping speeding lacrosse balls, Krohn also started focusing on his future. He became sports editor of the college newspaper and graduated in 3 1/2 years. A chance meeting with a Quayle official took him to the White House.

Throughout his career, Krohn has seized those types of opportunities. When he accompanied Quayle to an appearance on "Larry King Live" in 1992, Krohn schmoozed the producer and landed an internship there. He went on to work for "Crossfire," and after co-host Michael Kinsley announced he was heading to Microsoft to start Slate in 1995, Krohn volunteered to join him.

Krohn learned technology in a series of jobs at Slate, including co-managing editor and publisher, earning a reputation for being able to shepherd any project.

"He's very smart, very savvy and knows how to sell ideas and get other people excited about ideas," said Scott Moore, Yahoo's senior vice president and head of media, who worked with Krohn at Slate.

After moving to Yahoo in 2005, Moore approved a proposal to send journalist Kevin Sites to war zones around the world and file reports to the Web. But the company didn't have the publishing tools to make the project work. Moore knew Krohn could make it happen, and lured him to Santa Monica.

"He had to explain to the engineers what needed to get done, had to work with Kevin and Kevin's production team to explain to them how to morph what they did journalistically to do it online," Moore said. "He did it by force of will."

Krohn acknowledges that he's no engineer, but he knows enough about technology and communications to straddle those worlds. "I don't write code, but I can speak geek and I'm able to translate from the engineer to the editor."

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