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USAIR MERGER MIGHT GIVE BUSH VOTES
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USAIR MERGER MIGHT GIVE BUSH VOTES

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President Bush could push through approval of the USAir/British Airways investment proposal as a means of shoring up support in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

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With the political campaign in the home stretch, President Bush would like to boost his standing in a couple of key states by approving British Airways' proposed investment in ailing USAir, say industry and campaign sources.

The political plus is big: a chance to cheer 49,000 USAir workers concentrated in the battleground states of Pennsylvania and North Carolina. USAir employs more than 4,000 workers in the Triad alone.There is also a big minus: the enmity of American Airlines' chief executive officer, Robert Crandall, who has led the charge of U.S. carriers opposed to the deal.

Independent Ross Perot brought up the proposal in Monday night's presidential debate, labeling it ``a precursor to the dismantling of the U.S. airline industry.'

``This deal is terribly detrimental to the U.S. airline industry,' Perot charged.

``We won't be making airplanes in the U.S. airline industry in 10 years if this deal goes through.'

Perot is close to Crandall, who signed his petition early on to be on the ballot in Texas. However, Crandall has not taken a public position on the presidential race.

The decision on the proposal could come as soon as this week, after the United States concludes negotiations with the United Kingdom over easing flight restrictions into the U.K.

Fort Worth-based American has launched a political counter-offensive, galvanizing its work force to write more than 100,000 letters against quick approval without gaining significant British and European concessions.

Transportation Department spokesman Bob Marx says that no decision has been made and political insiders say the Bush campaign is not interested in any announcements that may have a down side. Pennsylvania GOP workers say that a decision won't come until after the Nov. 3 election.

But many carriers consider the deal a sure bet.

American Airlines officials were muttering Monday that the U.S. bargaining papers are written in such a way that they presuppose approval for British Airways' $750 million investment.

Crandall and United Airlines chief Stephen Wolf wrote angry letters last week to Transportation Secretary Andrew Card criticizing the U.S. negotiating stance.

In addition to American and United, Delta Airlines and Federal Express oppose BA's access to U.S. markets without reciprocal arrangements with European markets.

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