TAMPA, Fla. - Coal miners' hard hats worked like magnets to attract people to West Virginia's delegation at the 40th Republican National Convention, according to Brian Long.
Long, chairman of the Marshall County Republican Executive Committee, is one of 31 Mountain State delegates taking part in the event. He said the entire group donned black hard hats and wore them throughout the convention in honor of the state's thousands of coal miners and to demonstrate opposition to the Obama administration's "war on coal."
"We're all wearing miners' helmets, and the things work like a ... magnet," he said. "Everyone we see wants to know our story. ... They all want to stand up for coal. ...
"Really, the whole nation has heard about this deal with 'stand up for coal, stop the war on coal,'" he continued. "We talk the talk and walk the walk in the Ohio Valley, but to experience this 1,000 miles from home where every state is represented, it's amazing those people are very aware of what's going on. The helmets have been a big time hit."
Long is among 19 at-large delegates from West Virginia, and one of only two from the Northern Panhandle. Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie is the other local delegate who was elected at large. Long said this year's event marks his third trip to a Republican National Convention, but it is his first as a delegate.
"It's very interesting," he said. "It's ground zero for all the movers and shakers in government and politics. I was within 5 feet of John McCain and Cindy McCain. I've met congressman and senators ... Everyone is very accessible."
The Glen Dale resident is employed selling automobiles for Bob Robinson Chevy Buick Cadillac GMC at The Highlands. Noting he is a lifelong resident of the Ohio Valley, Long also said he is proud to represent the Mountain State at the convention.
He compared the convention experience to visiting Capitol Hill and taking a tour guided by Rep. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va. He noted he has been impressed with the high level of security surrounding the event, citing the fact that traffic is restricted within a 10-block radius of the Tampa Bay Times Forum. He said buses transporting the delegates to and from the venue are examined three or four times before approaching the center, with Secret Service agents using dogs and mirrors to check all passengers, storage areas and the undercarriage of the buses.
The convention concluded Thursday evening, and Long planned to return home today.