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(Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah reaches out to shake a hand on the West Front of the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, as he arrives for the ceremonial swearing-in ceremony for President Barack Obama during the 57th Presidential Inauguration. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. is at left. (AP Photo/Win McNamee, Pool) )
Utahns attending — and absent from — Obama’s big day

By Matt Canham and Thomas Burr

First Published Jan 21 2013 01:44 pm • Last Updated Jan 22 2013 01:40 pm

Washington • All three of Utah’s Republican House members skipped Monday’s inauguration, preferring to spend time with family back home.

Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee and Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson did represent the state on the inaugural stage for the festivities that were largely ceremonial but historically important.

At a glance

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In his defense for missing the big event, Rep. Jason Chaffetz noted the legal inauguration took place on Sunday, the day prescribed in the Constitution.

"I elected to skip the party and hoopla and not attend Monday’s event," he wrote on Facebook. "I honor the Office of the President of the United States, but my presence is not needed."

Freshman Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, was flying to Washington during the morning gathering, which drew hundreds of thousands of people. And Rep. Rob Bishop’s staff said he also missed the event.

A second try • Utah Democratic activist Weston Clark staked out his spot on the Capitol lawn by 5 a.m., a full six hours before the festivities began.

"I didn’t want to have happen this year what happened last time," said Weston, the former chairman of the Salt Lake County Democrats. "I wanted to be here as early as possible."

In 2009, Weston was one of the thousands of people who got stuck in security lines and missed the moment when Obama became the first black president of the United States. The crowd surged forward when Obama began to speak and he worried that the masses might try to overtake the security stations.

"You could just feel a collective devastation," he said. "That was frustrating."

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He eventually found a spot on the Mall to hear the tail end of his first inaugural address and still calls that 2009 trip "an amazing experience."

It also strengthened his resolve to see Obama’s second inauguration, even if he did have to wake up early.

Sarah Waters, a Bountiful resident who made it through security at the 2009 inauguration, also perhaps overcompensated just in case she faced similar crowds, getting up at 3 a.m. and arriving at the Capitol before the gates opened at 5:30 a.m.

"We learned our lesson from last time," she said. "You could definitely say that."

Switching hats • Sen. Orrin Hatch was spotted wearing a bright white Stetson "Stallion" cowboy hat before and during the inauguration ceremony, while outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was pictured in a baseball cap featuring the Interior Department logo. Perhaps Hatch was filling in for Salazar, a former Colorado senator who wore his trademark white cowboy hat at Obama’s 2009 inauguration and many public appearances.

Four years ago • Then-Sen. Bob Bennett got a prime speaking spot at Obama’s first inauguration, introducing then-Associate Justice John Paul Stevens to give the oath to incoming Vice President Joe Biden. This time, Sen. Lamar Alexander offered a similar speech to Bennett’s, talking about the peaceful way America elects and installs its leaders.

"We do this in a peaceful, orderly way," the Tennessee Republican said. "There is no mob, no coup, no insurrection. This is a moment when millions stop and watch."

Utahns up close • The jobs of three Utah natives brought them within yards of the president as he addressed the mammoth crowd.

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