TAMPA, Fla. - Republicans from D.C. and Maryland are an endangered species, but for a few short days here, they are basking in friendlier surroundings.
At the Republican National Convention, dozens of delegates from liberal bastions can fly their political flag without fear of being ostracized.
And now the Maryland delegates are enjoying some prime real estate.
After years of being relegated to the cheap seats, the Maryland Republicans are in the second row for the convention, just off the main stage.
"Last time we were all the way in the back in front of Hawaii," said Larry Helminiak, a Republican from Carroll County. "I don't know what happened or how we got here, but I'm not going to ask anybody. Don't want to screw it up."
Delegates from D.C. -- who, as representatives of a permanently blue bloc are often an afterthought at GOP conventions -- were seated just across the aisle from their Maryland brethren. Their ranks included political insiders in presidential nominee Mitt Romney's campaign, young activists and Patrick Mara, who, as a member of D.C.'s school board, is the only Republican elected to public office in the District.
Democrats may outnumber them 10-to-1 back home, but here in Tampa, they're among like-minded thinkers.
"It feels very foreign," said Rachel Hoff, a Logan Circle resident who works for the conservative Foreign Policy Initiative. "It's exciting. We're a small but strong delegation, but it's different for sure."
Though conservatives are easily outnumbered in the Free State, Audrey Scott, former chairwoman of the Maryland Republican Party, said the GOP there is enthused about Romney's White House prospects.
"He came and did a fundraiser for me; he was a very down-to-earth guy," she remembered. "He drove his own car -- didn't ask for all those perks that speakers usually do -- and was quite a funny person."
When asked why more people didn't see Romney in that light, she replied, "He must just be better in a one-on-one setting."
At the end of the week, the 16 delegates from D.C. and the 37 from Maryland will return to their Democratic-dominated jurisdictions where they are most certainly in the minority once again.
It's a sad reality for them, particularly when nearby Virginia is more receptive to Republicans and conservative ideals. In return, the GOP is more receptive to Virginia: The state's delegation had front-row seats, and Virginia's Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, was a headline speaker Tuesday night. A Northern Virginia lawmaker was also bestowed the honor of seconding the motion to nominate Romney for president.
Even more so, Republicans in D.C. and Maryland are looking for a voice in their respective governments.
"It's frustrating to watch a single-party system continue to fail our city," said Hoff. "We're doing our best to provide voters with a vibrant second party."