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A young rising GOP star from N.C.

No one should be surprised that 18-year-old Nelia Hamby of Kannapolis was voting to nominate John McCain for president this week instead of toiling away in classes at UNC Asheville.

Hamby, North Carolina's youngest delegate to the Republican National Convention, was attending Cabarrus County commissioners' meetings when she was an infant.

“She was pretty well behaved,” said her father, William Hamby, then a county commissioner. “If I didn't take my children to some of those events, the time I spent with my family would have been pretty limited.”

The only day of elementary school Hamby missed was in kindergarten when she went to see her dad sworn in as a district court judge, a post he still holds.

The political bug bit. Hamby dove into many of the usual activities at Northwest Cabarrus High School, such as marching band, theater and Beta Club honor society. She also was pitching in with campaigns for her dad and for U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes, a Concord Republican.

She helped start a College Republicans chapter and volunteers with the Republican Party campaign office in Asheville, not exactly a bastion of conservatism.

“My boss saw me on TV (at the convention) and shouted, ‘That's my intern!'” Hamby said.

A media celebrity is born. She did 16 interviews just on Tuesday, including The New York Times, Fox News, “The Daily Show” and an Italian television network. The educational program Channel One spoke with Hamby, and she hopes her sister, Maren, a junior at Northwest Cabarrus, will have to endure the embarrassment of watching that broadcast in class.

Hamby comes across as polite and confident. She chooses her words carefully, not quickly making a judgment.

“I studied up on how to be a delegate and said, ‘I can do that,'” she recalled.

The convention is sprinkled with college- and high-school-age delegates. The youngest is a 17-year-old from Iowa. Age rarely seems to matter. At a lunch for the N.C. delegation, a waitress offered a Mimosa or Bloody Mary, but Hamby declined.

“Right answer,” commended her father, a guest of his daughter.

After three days of immersion in speeches and hoopla, she's not ready to steer her life toward public office, but she followed the first requirement of politics: Never rule it out.

“We'll see,” she said.