- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2008

— This front seat to history goes to the Potomac’s rising stars: Virginia Democrats.

The Virginia delegation to the Democratic National Convention, long relegated to the far reaches of convention halls for their status in a hopelessly red state, has trounced their northern neighbor Maryland in the seating game.

“It’s unbelievable to be down that close,” said Marjorie Clark, an Obama delegate from Virginia.

The new seats are the best the retired teacher said she has seen in 20 years of convention-going.

In 1992, when Democrats held their convention in New York’s Madison Square Garden, Virginia delegates “were practically seated with the alternates,” she said, alluding to the occasionally shoddy seats alternate delegates are generally given at conventions.

Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner relished his delegation’s new status as stars in the convention hall Monday morning.

“Wait till you get to the hall and see where the Virginia delegation sits,” he told a crowd of cheering Virginia delegates at their Monday breakfast.

Mr. Warner, who is running for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sen. John W. Warner, would complete the transformation of the state’s Senate delegation from red to blue - something many Democrats couldn’t foresee a decade ago.

That momentum also has Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign hoping they can put Virginia in the Democrats’ column for the first time since 1964 - and has party leaders energizing the base of Democratic activists. It also has the state of Maryland, long a darling for Democratic presidential candidates, stuck in the bleachers.

“It’s not the closest section to the stage in the nation, but it’s convenient to get to; it’s convenient to leave,” said David Paulson, spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party. “You don’t have to hike to get to the bathrooms, which, trust me, will become a bigger problem as the night wears on.”

The Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC), which organized the seating for the roughly 5,000 delegates and alternate delegates, said seating is determined by several factors.

“It’s really a combination of factors, including size of the delegation, standing in the party, generally, and [Americans with Disabilities Act] needs,” said DNCC spokeswoman Natalie Wyeth.

Virginia delegates join delegates from Illinois, Mr. Obama’s home state, and Delaware, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s home state, as well as other delegations from swing states, including Ohio.

Maryland state Sen. James Rosapepe — a veteran delegate of conventions dating back to 1968, but who is not a delegate to this year — offered some sage advice to delegates: “It matters who’s president.”

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