(Host) The hottest ticket in the nation’s capital will get you the privilege of standing for hours… in a giant crowd… on what may be a very cold day in January.
Members of Congress each get a few hundred Inauguration tickets to dole out. And demand is off the charts. The Vermont delegation is getting hit up hard.
Elizabeth Wynne Johnson has more from Washington.
(Johnson) Millions of people are expected to flock to Washington to witness the swearing-in of Barack Obama… Vermont congressman Peter Welch has a front row seat on the frenzy. It started the day after the election:
(Welch) "And it’s from everybody. It’s an astonishing thing. You know, Vermonters want to come down, even though they’re hearing these nightmare stories about traffic, about security checks, about crowds. The number of people that want to come despite that is just astonishing.”
(Johnson) And it’s not jut the sheer volume of interest that surprises Welch. It’s the cross-section.
(Welch) "People who’ve been involved in the campaign, people who had dropped out and now are so excited about the future, older people, younger people.”
(Johnson) Within days, Welch and counterparts in the Senate were plowed under with thousands of requests. So the three Vermonters joined forces. Now, when ticket-seekers go to any of the lawmakers’ websites…
(Computer) “Due to overwhelming demand for tickets to President-elect Obama’s inauguration, the offices of Senator Patrick Leahy, Senator Bernie Sanders and Congressman Peter Welch will be conducting a joint lottery….”
(Johnson) The deadline was December 1st. The state is heavily Democratic, of course. But demand for the standing-room-only access is high everywhere – so-called “red states” included. Senator John Barrasso has taken calls that go something like this:
(Barrasso) "Well, you’re from Wyoming and it’s a Republican state. So there probably isn’t anyone in the Wyoming area that wants to come to the Inauguration. So, can we have your tickets? ‘Cause we have nothing to do with Wyoming.” (chuckles)
(Johnson) With demand so high, it’s not surprising that the free tickets have their price. And that price is in the five figure range. California Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced a bill to make it illegal to scalp tickets, but Congress never got around to passing it. eBay has agreed not to allow the sale of Inaugural tickets on the site, but determined buyers can still find offers on Craigslist.
Red, blue, young, old… Peter Welch sees the ticket-rush as a reflection of something bigger and – he hopes – long-lasting.
(Welch) "The thing that’s so wonderful is to see the new sense that it’s worth being involved, because if there is going to be the change we need – having a focus on trying to revive the middle class, save the environment, bring our troops home – it’s going to take active participation by an awful lot of citizens.”
(Johnson) The ticketless masses will likely come to Washington no matter what, to see what they can see. For the first time, Inauguration spectators will be allowed to fill the entire length of the National Mall. Which will be lined with giant Jumbotron screens. Which means they’ll be seeing the swearing-in much as they would at home: on television.
From Capitol News Connection, I’m Elizabeth Wynne Johnson, for VPR News.
AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson