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DNC’s oldest delegate: Once a Democrat, always a Democrat

By David Perlmutt, Justin Mayhew and Meagean Dugger
dperlmutt@charlotteobserver.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. The Mississippi delegation may be among the Democratic National Convention’s smallest, but it’s getting its share of media attention.

You’ve got Kelly Jacobs’ homemade sequined reversible shirts and dresses trumpeting her loyalties for President Barack Obama. She’s been interviewed by reporters from numerous foreign countries including China, Australia and England.

And there’s Elzena Johnson of Terry, Miss., officially the DNC’s oldest delegate at 97 (she turns 98 on Sept. 25). After arriving Monday with daughter Carolyn Clements, the media immediately began requesting interviews.

Including Al Jazeera, the independent Qatar-owned television network that became well-known to Americans during its early coverage of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

“I love talking to people, so that’s OK with me,” said Johnson, a town alderman first elected when she was 86. Until last year, she swam competitively in the state Senior Olympics.

“I talk to anybody – and I’m honest with them.”

Born in 1914, she remembers her parents riding off in a mule-drawn buggy to vote. “Daddy’d give Mama $4 to put up the poll tax,” she said. “Daddy was a farmer and money was hard to come by. But they didn’t let that keep them from voting – always for a Democrat.”

She cast her first presidential vote for President Franklin Roosevelt, likely in 1936, and, like her parents, has never voted for a Republican.

“I don’t have anything against them,” she said. “I was just raised a Democrat.”

The celebrity Tennessean

Actress and DNC delegate Ashley Judd had a confession for her fellow Tennessee delegates during breakfast Tuesday.

“I do root for the Tennessee Volunteers and the Vanderbilt Commodores – except when they’re playing Kentucky,” said Judd, a proud University of Kentucky graduate and fan who lives near Nashville.

That drew laughs from the Tennessee delegates, proud that Judd is among them.

They said the TV and film star is dedicated to the delegation. She’s staying at the same hotel and will join the delegation on the convention floor.

“She’s a grassroots type of person. She has a connection with the average person,” said Van Turner of Memphis, chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party. “She’s a wonderful person to have in our delegation.”

Turner hopes Judd’s celebrity will raise the profile of the Democratic Party in a state where Republicans control the governor’s mansion and both chambers of the legislature.

“I think (having her) in our delegation bodes well for Tennessee,” Turner said. “We are a red state now … I think we can become blue again.”

‘Bill’s still one of us’

Speaking of proud delegations, Arkansas delegates know that former President and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton is officially a member of the New York delegation. But as Dawne Vandiver, executive director of the Arkansas party, puts it: “Bill’s still one of us.”

In fact, Clinton, who’ll formally nominate Obama Wednesday night, hosted a fundraiser for the state party Tuesday night at the uptown Westin hotel, with about 600 guests expected – including actors Judd, Eric McCormack (of TV’s “Will and Grace”) and Adrian Grenier (HBO’s “Entourage”).

The delegates also celebrated the 20th anniversary of Clinton’s first nomination as president – at Madison Square Garden in New York.

“He loves the Democratic Party of Arkansas and wants Arkansas to stay blue,” Vandiver said. “We’re the only Southern state with a Democratic governor and Democratic-controlled legislature. But we’re struggling to stay blue.”

Texas vs. N.C. barbecue

Texas delegate Brian Hamon bragged Monday about his state’s barbecue – dry-rubbed seasoning on brisket, sausage, beef ribs or chicken.

Not this pulled pork stuff.

So The Observer challenged him to try North Carolina’s version at the uptown Queen City Q on Tuesday.

Hamon, 45, showed up with another Texas delegate, 69-year-old Larry Yawn, ordering pulled pork and brisket barbecue and Brunswick stew.

Hamon called the brisket “different,” adding “I’m not used to the vinegar. And they put in extra sugar, maybe brown sugar or honey, to compensate for the vinegar. A little heavy-handed, but it’s good.”

He liked the pulled pork, too.

Yawn had never tried grits – until this week. The dish surprised him: “I wasn’t expecting it to taste the way it did. I was really expecting (it to be) more cream of wheat.”

Perlmutt: 704-358-5061
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