- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 29, 2012

TAMPA, Fla. — It’s hard to know what Vermont did to deserve the worst seats at the Republican National Convention.

Sure, Vermont never votes Republican in presidential races. And, yes, the state did elect socialist Bernard Sanders to the Senate. But is that any reason to stick the delegation in a cubbyhole in the back of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, sandwiched between two bulky camera stands?

Vermont delegate Jane McKnight said she wasn’t surprised by the less-than-optimal seating assignment.

“I actually thought they would be worse,” she said. “We know Vermont’s three electoral votes are probably not going to the Republican nominee. We are fighting the good fight, but it’s probably a lost cause.”

When it comes to the party convention pecking order, clearly some states are more equal than others. The best seats in the house typically go to the states with the closest ties to the presidential and vice presidential nominees, and this year is no exception.

The delegation from Michigan, where Mitt Romney was born and raised, is front row, center stage here at the 2012 Republican National Convention. Massachusetts also has prime seating, just to Michigan’s right, as befits the state that elected Mr. Romney governor. Delegates from Wisconsin, home of Paul Ryan, are sitting pretty, with orchestra seats to the immediate left of Michigan.

As for the have-nots, the second-worst seats after Vermont’s are those of the Kansas delegates, seated directly in front of the Vermonters. The effect is “like being a racehorse and having blinders on,” said Kansas delegate Celia Beymer.

Even so, Kansas delegates were remarkably cheerful about their predicament, and noted that, in an inversion of the Vermont situation, chalked it up to their state being sufficiently safe for the Republicans.

“We’re in a cozy corner,” Kansas delegate Kelly Arnold said. “We understand it’s all about logistics. We’re a solid red state, so if they need to give another state a little more preference to help bring them along, that’s fine.”

The other theory is this may be payback for the primary.

Kansas did swing heavily for former Sen. Rick Santorum, giving him 51 percent of the vote to Mr. Romney’s 21 percent. In fact, Mr. Romney didn’t even campaign in the state during the primary race, ceding the field to Mr. Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Kansas delegates have tried to turn their remote outpost into a home by decorating their sign pole with a pair of ruby slippers and a Wichita State University flag.

“It doesn’t take away from our enthusiasm,” Mrs. Beymer said.

Convention organizers insist the seating chart is drawn up primarily with an eye to keeping state delegations together and making sure nobody has an obstructed view of the stage. That factor all but guarantees that no delegation will be seated behind Texas, whose delegates traditionally wear 10-gallon hats to the floor sessions.

Still, it’s easy to see why some delegations might feel slighted. For example, it would be difficult to find a state more solidly in the Romney camp than Utah — indeed, delegates describe their heavily Mormon state as the adopted home of the Republican nominee. Yet the Beehive State is stuck behind Illinois, home of President Obama.

Then again, at least Utah is positioned near center stage, unlike Colorado, a must-have state for Republicans that’s seated on the far left row, behind American Samoa and Arizona.

Is that any way to treat a swing state?

“I actually think our position on the floor is terrific,” Colorado Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call said. “Any time the cameras panned to a wide shot, there was Colorado. We had a great view of the action on the floor.”

It’s true that convention designers have managed to transform the cavernous 20,000-seat arena, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning professional hockey team, into something almost cozy. The venue feels intimate, more like a high-school graduation than a rock concert.

“Really, there’s not a bad seat in the house,” Kansas delegate Nathan Cox said.

As for the Vermont delegation, the challenge for 2016 is to boost its Republican turnout in this year’s presidential race or risk another year in convention purgatory.

“It’s fine,” said Mrs. McKnight with a brave grin. “We know Vermont’s place on the food chain.”

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