Millions of voters are expected to tune into the presidential debates that start Wednesday from the comfort of their own couches, but those looking to score a coveted seat inside the Oct. 16 debate at Hofstra University may find tickets hard to come by unless they attend the school or have an in with the campaigns.
Tickets to the debate are not available to the public, and are instead distributed to the two campaigns, the school and debate sponsors to hand out as they please, according to the Commission on Presidential Debates, the nonpartisan group that's been running the debates since 1988.
With the commission's organizers focusing on Wednesday's first faceoff between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney at the University of Denver, they say they won't know how many tickets will become available until a day or two before the Hofstra debate.
"Until we get on site, put our set in, figure out the acoustics, we won't know the audience size," said Peter Eyre, senior adviser for the commission.
More than 1,000 tickets were distributed during the 2008 debate held at Hofstra, but Eyre said that figure may change because this year's debate format is town meeting style, where candidates will field questions from a group of undecided New York voters selected at random by the polling firm Gallup.
In anticipation, campaign supporters and Hofstra students have started signing up for their chance to view the debate from inside the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex at the Hempstead school. The arena can hold up to 5,000, according to the school's website.
More than 6,000 Hofstra students submitted their names for an online lottery that opened last week and closes Wednesday, said university spokeswoman Karla Schuster.
Obama's New York City campaign office is handling distribution of its share of tickets and the state GOP has submitted a list to the Romney campaign of Republican leaders who want to attend, according to state officials.
"Everyone in New York is eagerly anticipating this debate," said Michael Waller, executive director of the New York Republican Party. "It not only focuses attention on our state . . . but it also shines a spotlight on some of our down-ticket races."
For those students unable to land a debate ticket, several viewing parties are being organized throughout the school, including one in the works by the campus Democrats club.
"The whole goal is to get as many people to watch," said Raj Bath, the group's treasurer. "It doesn't matter where you watch it, as long as you get the chance to watch."