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Boeing-Northrop Battle Hits the Conventions

By Keith Epstein Beneath the seeming unity of a convention and presidential campaign, of course, lurk varying objectives that can split even the most aligned of forces. One example that the presidential candidates may soon have to contend with is the long-running, almost soap-operatic drama surrounding the selection of a badly needed new fleet of refueling aircraft for the U.S. Air Force, a $35 billion contract mired for years in politicking, indecision, re-decision, and corruption.

Like candidates themselves, contenders Northrop Grumman and Boeing – and their convention delegate-surrogates from states that stand to gain or lose jobs – have been taking swings at each other. In one ad distributed in Denver by Congressional Quarterly’s “Convention Today” publication, Northrop accuses Boeing of offering the Air Force “just a design on paper.” Boeing’s full-page ads in National Journal and Congressional Quarterly were more gracious, focusing on saluting Obama – and reminding him of the tens of thousands of jobs linked to its work in Illinois and around the nation.

The delegations from Illinois, Kansas and Washington state (where Boeing employs) and Alabama (where Northrop/EADS aims to create jobs) were particularly energized against each other. “Anyone who’s related to or has a family member who ever worked at Boeing should not be punching John McCain’s ticket,” declared Jay Inslee, a congressman from Washington state, “because he’s sending jobs to France.” A Democratic governor, Kathleen Sibelius made similar remarks among her fellow Kansans.

Washington state congressman Norm Dicks, in particular, caused a furor among the Alabamans by suggesting they and Northrop had too little experience for the important work of building a tanker. “They don’t have a proven record like Boeing,” Dicks told a The Mobile Press-Register. Countered Stephen Nodine, the president of the city’s county commission, “I guess we're too inexperienced in Alabama to build rockets for NASA, state-of-the-art ships for the Navy, and vehicles for Mercedes, Honda and Hyundai.” Boeing, added Nodine, “has a dismal record in providing tankers.”

No word yet on how Obama might treat the matter, though Richard Danzig, his advisor on military matters, said during a luncheon in Denver “I don’t think we should get in the middle of it.”

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