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Charlotte, N.C. • Like almost all the Utahns in Charlotte, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker is attending his first Democratic Convention.

But it isn't his first appearance at a national political convention.

In 1968 he worked as a page at the Republican gathering in Miami, which saw Richard Nixon best Nelson Rockefeller for the party's nomination.

Becker's father, Ralph Becker Sr., was an active Rockefeller Republican in New York, and he got his then-16-year-old son the job running errands for party bigwigs. The mayor says at the time he "just assumed" he was a Republican.

"I was much more interested in sports and girls than in politics," he said.

Becker ran for, but did not win, a delegate spot for the Democratic Convention in 2008. As the most visible member of Utah's delegation this go around, the mayor is excited, saying: "More than anything, I'm just looking forward to the experience."

An unexpected encounter • Utah Democratic delegate Alan Anderson had an unexpected seatmate on the first leg of his flight from Salt Lake City to Charlotte — Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.

Chaffetz is in Charlotte this week to help Republicans counter the Democratic message and plans to appear on quite a few cable news shows.

Anderson said they had a polite, but brief conversation where he informed the conservative congressman that he lived in Chaffetz's district. He also asked if it was as contentious in Congress as the media portrays it.

Chaffetz told Anderson that some politicians make it contentious, "but we need good people on both sides of the aisle."

Faith, not fraternization • Scott Howell, like every other major Democratic candidate from Utah, had planned to avoid the national convention entirely. But he couldn't turn down an opportunity to represent the LDS Church on a panel on religion Wednesday, and since he's flying all the way to Charlotte, he plans to take part in a meeting Tuesday for LDS Democrats.

While glad to talk about his religious views, Howell and his campaign sure seem worried that it's a political liability for him to be seen fraternizing with Democrats from throughout the nation. And they launched a preemptive attack on Monday against any criticism that Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, may throw his way.

"I know that the Hatch camp could use this to try to paint me as something I'm not," Howell said in a statement. "If Orrin and his machine want to use my spirituality as political ammunition, that's on their heads, but my conscience is clean."

Asked if they had any comment on Howell's visit to Charlotte, Hatch campaign manager Dave Hansen responded: "No comment."

mcanham@sltrib.comTwitter: @mattcanham

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