By Associated Press - Monday, January 24, 2011

Civility or just silly, the push to mix Republicans and Democrats through the audience of President Obama’s televised State of the Union address spread across Capitol Hill on Monday, fueled by signals that Americans want to see more cooperation among the nation’s leaders.

Hatched last week by Sen. Mark Udall, Colorado Democrat, the idea caught fire over the weekend after a poll showed a big majority of the public wanting lawmakers of both parties to sit together at the presidential address.

A spirited round of private phone calls and e-mails among lawmakers followed, and by Monday, at least five dozen House members and senators had announced they had bipartisan dates for the big dance.

Many Republicans, too, accept the basic intent of the new seating plan. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, told reporters that he would be more than happy to sit with his Democratic opposite number, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland.

“If nothing else, it shows we are trying,” said Rep. Paul Gosar, a freshman Republican from Arizona who will be sitting next to Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat. “That’s a gesture that the American people really want to see.”

But some say it’s politically motivated to drive to mix it up now, in the raw aftermath of the Tucson shootings that left six dead and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded.

“The left has been promoting the idea that the tone in politics is one of the reasons why we had this tragedy in Arizona,” said Brian Darling, director of government relations for the conservative Heritage Foundation. The seating idea “has spun out of that line of reasoning.”

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