Secrets of the Aisle Hogs: How to Score the Best Seats at the State of the Union

The secret to getting that coveted presidential handshake.

BySTEPHANIE EBBS; VIDEO by JORDYN PHELPS, RICHARD COOLIDGE and TOM THORNTON
January 20, 2015, 8:29 AM

— -- Rep. Eliot Engel goes by many titles: Congressman, Democrat, New Yorker.

But how about "velcroid"?

The velcroids might sound like the name of a '90s alternative band, but it’s actually a term -- coined in 1991 by Maureen Dowd of the New York Times -- for the members of Congress who go out of their way to photo bomb the president at the annual State of the Union address.

More recently, they've become known as aisle hogs, and Engel is not just one of them; he’s an expert. The New York Democrat has staked out one of the best seats in the House of Representatives for the past 27 years, arriving in the chamber hours before the speech begins to claim his spot alongside the president’s entrance route.

His first experience as a “hog” was an accident. In 1989, Engel was a freshman member trying to cozy up to a more powerful lawmaker and found himself in an aisle seat a few hours before the speech. By 2013, he told the Washington Post he had to arrive 10 to 12 hours in advance to save his spot.

Why does he do it?

Engel said he loves being in the thick of the action, seeing senators, cabinet members and Supreme Court justices march down the aisle. But it has also given him a 100 percent success rate with the highly-televised presidential entrance and handshakes before and after the speech.

“When it happens, it’s electrifying. There’s so much energy, it’s wonderful to be a part of it,” he said in a recent interview with ABC News.

His annual appearance at the president’s national address has caught the eye of constituents who often mention it when they see him. His 1994 re-election challenger even criticized his aisle hog habit to try to get a leg up in the race, according to The New York Times.

But Engel brushed off criticism, dismissing the term “aisle hog” as the invention of “some cutesy reporter who thought it was cute, thought it up and said it.”

“I think this job is a very important and responsible job and I take it very seriously,” he said. “But I can also have fun while I’m doing it. I have fun at the State of the Union, it’s a fun thing to do.”

ABC News' Richard Coolidge, Jordyn Phelps, Kari Rea and Tom Thornton contributed to this report.

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