Airline Politics

Posted: Jun 19, 2008 12:01 AM
Airline Politics

Weeks ago, our InsiderAdvantage survey indicated that the nation's ninth largest state, Georgia, with its 15 electoral votes, might be up for grabs in the 2008 presidential contest. In recent elections, the state has been a Republican lock.

Consider that metropolitan Atlanta has among its 5 million people a disproportionately large voting population of people under 30 years old. And Georgia has one of the biggest populations of voting-age African Americans in America.

Throw in that former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr is the Libertarian Party's candidate for president, and suddenly the possibility looms that this traditionally conservative state could be a critical scalp on the belt of one Sen. Barack Obama this fall.

For Obama to pull off a victory against Sen. John McCain, many believe he will need to gain key "battleground states" that have not been the focus of attention for presidential candidates in recent years.

Some other key states that could be up for grabs: North Carolina, Virginia, Missouri and several western states, including Minnesota.

And that's where "airline politics" comes into play.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines and Minneapolis-based Northwest Airlines have announced their intention to merge into one company, to be called Delta and to call Atlanta its headquarters. The idea of losing Northwest as a major corporate citizen is not going over well with the citizens of Minneapolis or Minnesota as a whole.

And to boot, the Republican National Convention is being held in Minneapolis.

The plot thickens: Who will decide if this mega-airline merger is to be or not to be? The Bush Justice Department's Anti-Trust Division, which, fairly or not, will be viewed as reflecting the "Republican" view of the deal.

With major news organizations such as Time magazine now reporting that Georgia is seen as a winnable prize for Obama, one might guess that an approval of the deal might tip Georgia into the McCain camp. But our surveys of that state show little interest or enthusiasm for a merger. The fear in Georgia is that a larger firm might swallow up Delta, with the headquarters going elsewhere. But that is not the case.

Meanwhile, back in Minnesota, there is some question about how popular the GOP might be, despite bringing its presidential nominating business to town. If Republicans are perceived as having brokered a merger deal that shuts down Northwest headquarters there, the party and its candidates may be persona non grata.

This is typical of what is happening to McCain, who is a stronger candidate than many in media realize. On his own he does fine. But when saddled with decisions by his party or by the Bush White House, he begins to from suffer voter "jet lag."

Meanwhile, Camp Obama is licking its chops over the Delta dilemma, the sinking economy, and the remaining, if unspoken, lack of enthusiasm for McCain among some Republican Party leaders and prominent conservatives.

With Obama having a sizeable cash advantage over McCain, huge voter registration efforts of African-American voters in states such as Georgia and North Carolina are well underway.

Meanwhile, McCain is left having to try to ignite a fire under the Republican faithful. His efforts in many ways have seemed disorganized or bumbling.

Even McCain's move to propose that Florida be allowed to drill offshore for oil should the state so choose is a double-edged sword. It certainly puts forth a practical answer to folks suffering from astronomically high gasoline prices on the table. But there is a reason why former Gov. Jeb Bush always opposed allowing such exploration to take place; it wasn't popular with residents on Florida's coasts.

Whether the tide of public opinion on the issue has changed or not remains to be seen. But with Florida now back in the news on presidential politics, McCain will have to fight all the harder to win states like Minnesota.

The best news for John McCain is that he's John McCain. He is smart and savvy. If he remains independent in this thinking, he can find his way to staying competitive and possibly winning.

But with little time bombs like the Delta-Northwest deal lurking out there, he will have to navigate carefully in the "unfriendly skies" of presidential politics.