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Inauguration Frenzy Now in Full Swing

The frenzy to attend President-elect Obama’s inauguration has already begun, with thousands calling Congress for a ticket and scam artists promising entry for hundreds of dollars.

Staffers have been quietly planning the inauguration for months, with little if any notice from the public.

But when Obama’s victory was announced late Tuesday night, visits to the official inauguration Web site skyrocketed — by Friday afternoon, total hits had risen from the low thousands to more than 200,000. The interest is “enormous,” said Carole Florman, spokeswoman for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

But with that interest comes a lot of misinformation. Florman said she was “appalled” when a friend told her that tickets were being sold online for $400.

“What we are concerned about mainly is this is a free event and tickets are available to the public through various mechanisms,” she said. “It’s wrong for people to think they need to spend four or five hundred dollars.”

The Congressional committee, headed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), organizes everything from the menu of the inaugural luncheon to the ceremony’s theme. On Wednesday, officials announced that the theme would be “A New Birth of Freedom,” words from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to celebrate his 200th birthday — and somewhat fittingly link the Civil War president with the nation’s first African-American president.

About 250,000 tickets have already been printed and are currently locked away in a secret and secure location. They will stay there until the committee hands some out to Members in January.

Members will then give their allotment to their constituents. Obama and Vice President-elect Biden also will get tickets to hand out to the public.

In a few weeks, Florman said, the committee will tell Members how many tickets they will get. Senators are likely to get more than Representatives because they represent a larger area.

Already, Members are fielding requests and have started lists. D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) received so many requests last week — about 2,000 calls and 1,000 e-mails — she created a specific e-mail address to handle them all. But by Friday afternoon, Norton had stopped accepting all requests.

“Because of the high demand for tickets, this office can no longer take names,” said an announcement on Norton’s Web site. “We are in discussions with President-Elect Barack Obama’s office and other officials on how to best accommodate the high demand.”

In an earlier press release, Norton told her constituents she simply didn’t have anything to distribute. “Besieged with calls for inauguration event tickets, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today said she shares the enthusiasm of her constituents about the coming historic inauguration, but no tickets are yet available,” the release said.

Obama hasn’t yet formed his inauguration committee, which will work with the Congressional committee to decide on aspects of the ceremony such as musical performances and who will swear in the new president.

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