Barack Obama's election night rally next week seems to have illuminated an essential, unavoidable American truth: when tickets are in demand, tickets will be scalped.
On Tuesday afternoon, the campaign sent an email to Illinois supporters, directing them to a website where they could register on a first-come-first-served basis for tickets to Obama's rally in Chicago's Grant Park. The Obama camp has said the event will accommodate 65,000 "spectators," though it's unknown how many of those slots were offered to the general public.
Within hours, all available tickets were gone. Seekers were soon being relegated en masse to a waiting list. Those who signed up in time got an email letting them know that they and a guest would be admitted to the election night. In an attempt to prevent ticket swapping, the email stressed that the ticket holder would have present ID to verify they were, in fact, the person who got the ticket.
But the email said nothing about the identity of the guest, which is where things soon got interesting. Soon the slots were up for auction on Craigslist. The first ad went up at 6:19pm on Tuesday, — an innocent posting from a woman named Melissa in California, who offered a straightforward plea:
I have supported Obama since 2004 and have been volunteering and calling for the campaign all year... I was very excited about attending the election night rally and even bought my plane tickets and prepaid for my hotel room in Chicago. Then today, as soon as I saw how to sign up for tickets, I tried to, only to find that I'm relegated to the waiting list with probably very little hope of getting a ticket.
It wasn't long until the classified website was playing host to small but lively scalping scene — an awkward dance of the haves and have-nots. As the listings multiplied, the have-nots grew increasingly desperate, and the haves increasingly merciless.
Posting #898137808 said it plainly, "I have 1 ticket for the event (for 1 person only) make an offer highest player wins." Should there be any question, the poster emphasized that any deal would be "cash only." Sensing their power, some ticket holders with empty guest spots began angling for things other than money. Posting # 898251698: "I'll accept the best offer, which doesn't necessarily have to be cash. I'm a huge Sox fan, for example, so some sweet tix to a game next year might do the trick." That poster even added the odd (and somewhat creepy) flourish, "seriously folks, get creative." One ticket seeker reported getting an offer for a guest spot in exchange for $1,500.
Those sans tickets responded in kind, throwing out offers between 40 and 150 dollars. They appealed on the grounds of pity and geography. Some offered to barter. Posting #897911042: "willing to trade a professional massage and/or apple computer HELP for 2 tickets." Some offered romance: "maybe it could turn into more than one night with me you and Obama. :) haha. who knows right??"
The scalping soon raised scorn among Obama supporters, who shamed those hawking the free tickets. Posting #898784650:
What is wrong with you?- Let someone come with you for free and you won't seem like such horrible people- and you might actually make a friend which could make you happier than a few hundred bucks. The tickets were free. If you really support OBAMA maybe you should consider the way he would behave in this situation and not be completely self-centered.
The Obama campaign declined to comment on the situation.
— Ben Calhoun, Chicago Public Radio
UPDATE: You can hear from some of the Obama ticket haves and have-nots in this radio story.