““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
'Change' is in the air-so is the 'straight talk express'
Back before the Iowa primary, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain spent lots of time rolling around that state on campaign buses. But with the clock ticking toward election day and much bigger terrain to cover, both candidates have long since turned mostly to business jet travel.
During the primaries, Senator Obama (D-Ill.) chartered a Boeing 757-200ER with a conventional airline seating arrangement. Now the campaign has customized another 757, according to New York-based North American Airlines, the jet's operator. The interior has being reconfigured with a first-class section for the candidate and his closest advisers, a business-class section for other campaign officials and coach for journalists. A new paint job features Obama's theme, "Change We Can Believe In," on the fuselage, and the candidate's logo on the tail.
As for Senator McCain (R-Ariz.), he frequently chartered aircraft from JetBlue during the primaries. He also used the Cessna Citation Excel available to his wife in her role as chairwoman of her family's business, Hensley & Company, a major Anheuser-Busch beer distributor.
McCain's use of the Excel in the summer of 2007 as his campaign war chest shrank precipitously drew negative attention from the media. Due to an exemption in Federal Election Committee regulations, McCain's campaign could use the corporate airplane like a charter jet while paying only first-class airline rates rather than the significantly higher cost that he would have incurred had the aircraft been on charter. The law specifically exempts aircraft owned by a candidate or his family or by a privately held company they control.
Given McCain's longstanding position on campaign finance reform, and the fact that he'd backed legislation last year requiring presidential candidates to pay charter rates-not the less expensive first-class fares-when using such jets, some felt his choice of reimbursement was disingenuous.
Financially rejuvenated, at any rate, the McCain campaign is now using a Boeing 737-400 operated by Phoenix-based Swift Air. The aircraft, which has the campaign's "Straight Talk" logo emblazoned on its fuselage, also carries the candidate's motto, "Reform, Prosperity, Peace."
The jet is configured to be reminiscent of McCain's old campaign bus. However, FAA regulations require that the aisles be clear, so a horseshoe-shaped couch that the candidate used on the bus for chats with reporters is out, replaced by a captain's chair for McCain and a smaller, airworthy couch. There are 10 first-class and 95 additional seats. The middle cabin is reserved for the Secret Service and the aft cabin for journalists.