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For NC delegation, great seats but a long ride

The N.C. delegation got good seats this week at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
The N.C. delegation got good seats this week at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Eric Frazier

N.C. delegates to the Democratic National Convention were awarded some prime real estate on the convention floor in Wells Fargo Center. It’s got it all: proximity, stadium-seating and a view befitting a state that could prove to be a key battleground in November.

The state delegations closest to the podium where Hillary Clinton will give her acceptance speech Thursday night are Arkansas, where she was once first lady, and New York, which she represented in the U.S. Senate. Also in first class on the floor is Virginia, the state that’s home to Clinton’s running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine.

Delegates from North Carolina have to climb a few steps to their seats, but they have an above-the-crowd view of the podium.

“I love it,” said N.C. Democratic Party chair Patsy Keever. “We can see everything.”

Larken Egleston, a delegate from Charlotte, credited the good seats to Clinton’s desire to add North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes to her column. Counting her Monday appearance at the VFW convention in Charlotte, she’s been in the Tar Heel State three times – once with President Barack Obama – in a little over a month.

“Besides Hillary’s two home states, the good spots have gone to the swing states,” Egleston said. “I’m glad we’re one.”

That’s the good news.

The bad? No other state delegation is staying in a hotel as far away as North Carolina’s. The Holiday Inn Lansdale, near historic Valley Forge, Pa., is about 35 miles from Philadelphia. It’s a perfectly nice hotel and the 150-member delegation and staff pretty much have it to themselves. But if traffic is bad, it can take an hour for the shuttle to get to the Wells Fargo Center.

Why so far away?

Keever, the state party chairman, cites a combination of bad luck and the national Democratic Party’s insistence on using only unionized hotels. She and her counterparts from the 49 other states plus U.S. territories and Democrats Abroad got together months ago and did a hotel lottery. They picked numbers out of a hat. Keever dipped her hand in and pulled out No. 57 – the bottom number.

Also in the mix: There weren’t enough unionized hotels in Philadelphia, so they had to venture out. And the N.C. delegation’s big size meant it couldn’t really share many hotels with other state delegations. Those from Guam and the other territories are so small that bigger state delegations hardly know they’re around.

“Lansdale isn’t exactly here in the city center. We’re here in the suburbs,” cracked U.S. Rep. David Price, D-N.C., during his short speech at the delegation’s breakfast meeting Monday.

In Cleveland, during the Republican National Convention, the N.C. delegation’s hotel was close enough to the action that their breakfast meetings attracted out-of-state GOP A-listers as speakers, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Eric Trump, son of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

The N.C. Democrats will get a breakfast-time visit Wednesday from U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., a frequent guest on network news talk shows and the person who introduced Sen. Bernie Sanders in the convention hall Monday night. (Ellison’s brother chairs the Forsyth County Democratic Party.) But the long drive is apparently making it hard to get other big-name Democrats.

On Monday, it took U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., about an hour and five minutes to reach the hotel. By the time Butterfield – head of the Congressional Black Caucus – got there, many of the delegates had already eaten and gone their separate ways.