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Utah delegates on edge of convention spotlight

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PHILADELPHIA — It wasn't exactly 15 full minutes of fame, but several Utah delegates to the Republican National Convention found at least 15 seconds of fame during the first two days of the event.

That came either because of their extreme youth, a famous-sounding name, a job that fit in with the theme of the day or having a familiar face for national reporters on a slow news day.

Here's some highlights of the delegation's day:

ADVANTAGES OF YOUTH — The Republican Party confirmed that Utah's Jordan Ruzicka is indeed the convention's youngest delegate (he's technically an alternate delegate). With that, he started receiving interview requests from media throughout the nation.

"I did Fox News and NBC," he said. "The New York Times and CNN have been calling trying to find me." Ruzicka is 17 years old, but will turn 18 in October — meaning he will barely be old enough to vote for president in November.

What do the national press want to know? "They ask how I became involved in politics so young and what people my age think of politics." He, of course, is the son of Gayle Ruzicka, president of the conservative Eagle Forum in Utah and an outspoken critic of abortion. Numerous members of his extended family have been convention delegates through the years, and nine Ruzicka family members are attending this year's conventions —three as delegates.

"Politics has always been a hot topic of discussion in my family," he said. "Most kids my age feel you can't complain unless you are involved — and it's nice to be involved." It is the second straight convention where Utah had the youngest delegate. In 1996, Utahn Jason Brinton, then 18, was the nation's youngest delegate.

CHINESE INFILTRATOR — Helping speed adoptions was one of the major themes of the convention Monday, and that may have helped Utahn Gracie Mei Huntsman make it onto the convention floor without a credential — even though she is a citizen China.

Of course, she's only 14 months old, too.

She was abandoned in China when she was 2 months old but was adopted by Jon Huntsman Jr. and his wife. Jon Huntsman is a former U.S. ambassador to Singapore and a Utah delegate.

"She's still technically a citizen of the People's Republic of China and travels with a PRC passport," Huntsman said, noting it takes about year to finalize citizenship for a foreign child adopted by U.S. parents.

While security is tight and normally allows no one to enter the floor without credentials, Huntsman was waved through with his young daughter when he mentioned her background.

By the way, Huntsman — who speaks Chinese — said her middle name "Mei" means "beautiful."

BUHLER'S DAY ALMOST-OFF — Utah delegate Dave Buhler, a former state senator, was quietly listening to the convention Monday when he was suddenly called to stand up and take a bow.

Ben Stein, a comedian who hosts a TV Show called "Win Ben Stein's Money," and who played a teacher in the movie "Ferris Buhler's Day Off," referred to that movie role by starting his appearance on stage yelling, "Buhler, Buhler . . . There's a Buhler in the Utah delegation." So he had Buhler stand up and wave.

DREAM "THEME" JOBS — Having jobs that fit in with convention themes put two Utahns on stage at the convention on Monday.

Lt. Gov. Olene Walker walked on stage with some of the other 28 GOP lieutenant governors from around the nation as part of a presentation on how the party is governing states.

"It was a wonderful view," she said, adding it was much less stressful to merely stand on stage than when she had to address it four years ago when she chaired a party platform committee.

Derek Smith, GOP candidate for Utah's 2nd Congressional District, was one of 20 candidates in hotly contested races allowed to speak for one minute each. "It was a little more intimidating than I thought it would be," he said. "But it was awesome looking out over the audience."

MEANWHILE, AT THE BACK OF THE BUS — The great views that Walker and Smith enjoyed on stage were a bit — well, a lot — better than Utah delegates enjoy on the floor this year. Many describe their position at the rear of the hall as "the back of the bus." "You can't see or hear because everyone else stands up in front of you," said delegate Dan McConkie.

"You know your seats are far back when the alternates have better seats," said delegate Gary Herbert, a Utah County commissioner. While alternates sit a bit further back, they are higher in elevation and can see the stage better.

But Walker said being in the rear of the hall has advantages over other recent conventions when Utah was near the front — and constantly in view of TV cameras.

"Back here you can read, you can sleep or you can sneak out — and nobody cares," she said.

A FAMILIAR FACE — Being at the rear of the hall, however, made Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, an easy interview target for national reporters who didn't want to maneuver tight walkways to squeeze to the front of the hall to find others.

As a failed presidential candidate this year — and as chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee — Hatch was besieged by a constant line of reporters waiting to talk to him, but he seemed to thoroughly enjoy it.

While Hatch once ran hoping this convention would nominate him, he said he has not been dwelling on what might have been.

"There's no reason to do that," he said. But as a former candidate, he said, "I have been getting more requests for interviews than normal, although I always had quite a few."

EXPENSIVE SEATS — Jeff Wright spent hundreds of thousands of his own dollars running for Utah's 2nd District Congressional seat before he was eliminated at the state GOP convention, but supporters there did manage to elect him as a delegate to the national convention.

"So it may have been the most expensive campaign for national delegate ever," Wright joked.

But he has company in his misery. Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah, who survived the GOP state convention only to lose the primary to Derek Smith, also was elected a national delegate by his supporters. So, essentially, he also ran an expensive campaign for national delegate.

But Cook said it may complete a political circle for him. "The first election I ever won was as a delegate to the 1976 national convention."

E-MAIL: lee@desnews.com ; bbjr@desnews.com