Florida and Michigan: So Much for Punishment

Democratic convention delegates from Florida and Michigan are finding that party leaders do indeed forgive and forget - at least in terms of seating.

Delegates from the two states - which were penalized by the party this year for moving up their primary dates without permission - are perched almost directly in front of the speaker's podium in a much-coveted spot immediately adjacent to the delegation from Sen. Barack Obama's home state of Illinois.

That could have something to do with the fact that both states are considered key battlegrounds in November's presidential election. Other, more Republican states weren't quite as fortunate.

Utah delegates, for example, have found themselves in the far reaches of the Pepsi Center , in "our traditional seats with a good view of the butt" of the speaker, state Democratic Party Executive Director Todd Taylor lamented to theDeseret News. Democrats haven't won the state in a presidential race in 44 years, and 2004 nominee John F. Kerry was clobbered by 46 percentage points there, his biggest loss anywhere, the paper reminds.

A look at the convention's official seat chart reveals that other Republican-leaning states, including Mississippi , Texas and South Dakota , are also at the fringes of the action. But some traditionally red-leaning states have been rewarded with surprisingly good seats this year, in another sign that Democrats hope to put them in play in November.

For example, delegates from Virginia - which, like Utah , hasn't voted for a Democrat for president since 1964 but is considered competitive this year - are situated directly behind Obama's backers from Illinois . One longtime convention-goer told The Washington Times that the seats were the best the state has had in at least 20 years. Former Virginia governor and current U.S. Senate candidate Mark Warner (D) is the convention's scheduled keynote speaker tonight.

Montana delegates also are enjoying "incredible" seats, in the words of one super delegate, according to The Bozeman Daily Chronicle . Obama's campaign considers Montana competitive this year even though the state went for President Bush by 20 percentage points four years ago.