- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2008

ST. PAUL, Minn. | Alaska residents have a reputation to uphold - they who live in the state dubbed “the Last Frontier” are known for enjoying open space, living off the land and arguably being just a little bit tougher than their neighbors in the Lower 48.

Maybe that’s why Alaskan delegates to the Republican National Convention aren’t giving a second thought to the fact that, despite having the second spot on the presidential ticket, they’ve been relegated to the rear seats on the convention center floor.

“Oh, who cares?” said convention delegate Pat Fink, a retired teacher from Fairbanks. “We’re Alaskans. We can take it.”

The Alaska delegation’s seating section is located diagonally left from the convention podium at the Xcel Energy Center, where Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was slated to deliver her much-anticipated address accepting the vice-presidential nomination Wednesday night.

But the delegation sits all the way at the rear of the floor. Supporters of a party’s top-ticket nominee usually are assigned more prominent seats. For example, the delegation from presumptive presidential nominee Sen. John McCain’s home state of Arizona sits up front and directly to the right of the stage.

At the Democratic National Convention in Denver last week, the delegation from vice-presidential nominee Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s home state had been placed at the rear of the convention floor, but its members later were moved closer to the stage.

“The seating map became final and official when Delaware took its place at the front of the arena, in recognition of Senator Biden’s place on the ticket,” said Natalie Wyeth, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Convention Committee.

Melissa Subbotin, a spokeswoman for the Republican convention, said the Alaskans are sitting in the back simply due to scheduling conflicts: Mr. McCain didn’t announce Mrs. Palin as his running mate until the Friday before the convention began.

“Unfortunately, our seating plan had to be finalized well before Governor Palin, our fantastic vice-presidential nominee, was selected,” she said. ” We look forward to welcoming her - and her home state delegation - to the Xcel Energy Center.”

Still, Alaska delegates couldn’t care less.

Randy Ruedrich, chairman of the state’s Republican Party, called the delegation’s location “excellent” and noted it was adjacent to the distinguished visitor box in the center.

He also said the delegation has been in a similar location for the past three party conventions.

“Would we like to be up front? That’d be great,” said Dave Lewis, a first-time delegate from Eagle River. “But look, we’re here. We’re part of the process.”

Delegate Pete Higgins, a dentist from Fairbanks, said the location had let him shake the hands of former President George H.W. Bush and Mr. McCain’s wife, Cindy, as they came to the floor.

He joked that during the first night of the convention he hoped the delegation could switch with New Mexico, whose members are seated near the front of the floor.

“We joke about [our location] a little amongst ourselves,” Dr. Higgins said. “I don’t think it’s offended anybody, to tell you the truth.”

Melissa Stepovich, a delegate from Fairbanks, said she hadn’t even thought about the group’s seating arrangement. Once it was brought to her attention, she simply noted its benefits.

“We’re close to the bathroom and the exits,” Ms. Stepovich said. “You know Alaskans - we like our space. So it works out well.”

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