N.C. sees run on inauguration seats

North Carolina's congressional offices have been slammed with requests for tickets to see Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony.

Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr has logged thousands of calls from constituents, some dating back to January. Democratic U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge had some 600 calls as of Friday.

Even Democratic Senator-elect Kay Hagan – who hasn't even taken office yet – has had more than 600 requests since Wednesday.

With the Tar Heel state just a few hours' drive from Washington, it's no surprise that many residents want to be there for the swearing in of the first black president.

Laura Antonelli, owner of Péché de Chocolat in downtown Raleigh, hopes to crash on the floor of a friend's studio apartment in Washington. She's taking her 10-year-old son, Malik, along to see history.

“I feel like it's something I'd really be missing out on if I didn't go,” said Antonelli, who volunteered for Obama and saw him at his rally in Raleigh last month.

But anyone who hasn't already asked for tickets might be out of luck.

The tickets are free, but they're available only from congressional and senatorial offices. They won't be distributed until January, just before the Jan. 20 ceremony.

The offices themselves don't know how many tickets they'll get, though they should be able to get back in touch with constituents in December, said Joanne Peters, Etheridge's spokeswoman.

Web sites are offering tickets starting at $1,200 and going up to $2,300. But the official Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies warns people to view those offers with skepticism.

“Any Web site or ticket broker claiming that they have inaugural tickets is simply not telling the truth,” said Howard Gantman, staff director for the committee.

Meanwhile, congressional offices are trying to juggle requests and waiting lists.

“We're trying to be as fair as possible to everyone,” said Chris Walker, Burr's spokesman.

“There's a lot more demand than there are tickets.”

Plus, he said, there is more to do than attend the official swearing- in. Part of the National Mall will be open, as will Capitol Hill offices. The inauguration parade up Pennsylvania Avenue is free, though the route will be packed.

And several states, including North Carolina, will be holding their own unofficial inaugural balls.

“We encourage people to come on up,” Walker said. “If we can help with a Capitol tour or anything, we're willing to help.”

Antonelli hadn't yet called her congressman's office for tickets, but she plans to take in the revelry no matter what.

“It's such a wonderful time for Americans to celebrate democracy,” she said. “It's really just the experience.”