U.S. Rep. John Spratt has a message for the thousands of constituents who didn't get inauguration tickets from his office: I'm sorry.
Spratt, D-S.C., fielded more than 4,500 ticket requests from people eager to attend the Jan. 20 swearing-in of President-elect Barack Obama. The level of demand dwarfs the 198 tickets given to each House member.
The result, Spratt said, is that many deserving people weren't chosen.
"They desperately want to be here to enjoy it, and I fully understand that," Spratt said Thursday. "We've tried to be as fair and rational as we could be."
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Spratt gave priority to elected officials, public officials and party activists, especially those who worked for Obama's campaign. Spratt said he dispersed the tickets evenly across the sprawling 5th Congressional District.
He also selected a handful of people who mailed him passionate essays about why they want to attend.
A pair of tickets went to Rock Hill Police Chief John Gregory, the first African-American to hold the post. Spratt recalled how Gregory grew emotional during Obama's visit to Rock Hill's Northwestern High School in October 2007.
"When it was over, he said, 'I'd like to go to the inauguration,'" Spratt said. "I said, 'Absolutely. If he wins the election, don't you worry. We'll put you down for tickets to go.'"
Spratt picked up six additional tickets from Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., whose office had a few extras.
"I saw him at the White House the other night at thanked him profusely," said Spratt, who ran into DeMint at the annual White House Christmas party.
More than 1 million people are expected for the inauguration of the nation's first black president -- quite possibly more than the record 1.2 million people who attended Lyndon B. Johnson's inauguration in 1965.
The inauguration tickets, which bear multiple security codes, remain locked away until the week before the festivities. They will be given to lawmakers to dole out in whatever way they choose, without having to disclose the recipients. In-person pickup will be required.
Those without tickets can still take part, Spratt emphasized.
"If you decide to come and be there for occasion, you're going to see and experience about the same thing as the people sitting in the special (ticketed) zone," he said. "You'll see it on a screen, which is where 99 percent of the people will see it anyway."
Spratt plans to attend with his wife, Jane, and daughter, Catherine. His other two daughters have young children.
Many groups without tickets plan to travel to Washington for the festivities.
The York/Chester chapter of South Carolina State University alumni association plans to take three charter buses to Richmond, Va., where the group will hop a train into D.C. on the morning of the inauguration. So far, 60 to 70 people have signed up.
"You'll probably be standing in the same spot for five or six hours," said association president Carl K. Dicks. "Not only that, it's probably going to be about 30 degrees. People don't seem to mind."