Clinton vs. Obama: A must-see!

Latest buzz in H'wood is, 'Can you get me a ticket?'

Tonight's Democratic debate at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland is one hot ticket.

Maybe it's the prospect of seeing the Democratic field winnowed to the two remaining candidates, Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama, so close to Super Tuesday and the California primary. Maybe it's the prospect of a fiery debate. Or maybe it's the fact that tonight's event could be the biggest star-studded spectacle so far this year at the Kodak, which next month will host the Oscars — maybe.

"This debate is so hot, we're getting more requests for tickets than the Oscars are getting," said Bob Mulholland, campaign adviser for the California Democratic Party. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Whatever it is, the debate's sponsors — CNN, Politico.com and the Los Angeles Times — have been inundated by requests for tickets for the 2,500 or so available seats in the theater. Many of the tickets were reserved for handing out by the California Democratic Party, which has sanctioned only this debate before Tuesday's primary.

The party gave out good seats to such high-profile California Democrats as Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton and California Lt. Gov. John Garamendi. The rest of the party's stash were handed out by lottery, with thousands of names for only several hundred slots.

Roughly 500 journalists have been credentialed to cover the event.

CNN Washington bureau chief David Bohrman acknowledged that there's been a clamoring for tickets among Hollywood's elite. But Bohrman, who has produced more than his share of debates over the years at CNN and ABC News, said he isn't star-struck.

"You can see celebrities any day, every day in Hollywood. It's no big deal. The big draw is Clinton vs. Obama," he said Wednesday amid meeting with the GOP candidates ahead of their debate later in the evening at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif. "That's the hot ticket. They are not coming to be seen as celebrities."

While there will no doubt be celebrities in the audience, the California Democratic Party declined comment on who they might be. Bohrman said that other than maybe appearing in a cutaway, it's immaterial to the debate.

"Trust me, the celebrities are onstage," he said.

Mulholland agreed and said that while the setting is the Kodak, no one will confuse the debate with the Oscars.

"There's not going to be a red carpet," he said. "This is really a debate about the future of America."

It's likely to be a contentious battle between Obama and Clinton, who have sparred throughout the myriad debates across the country. During all the other debates, there were other candidates who acted as buffers. But with former Sen. John Edwards' withdrawal from the race Wednesday, there's likely to be no holds barred.

Both candidates will be introduced onstage and give a 90-second opening statement. After that, moderator Wolf Blitzer of CNN will exert a less-than-heavy hand.

"There are no rules for the debate — no time limit and no rules," Borhman said. He didn't want to speculate on what might happen.

"Will it be a Brookings Institution discussion of the issues, or will be it be something with more energy?" Bohrman said. "I have no idea. We'll have to see."

Clinton will go from the debate to a $500-a-ticket fundraiser at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Among those scheduled to appear are Sally Field, Ted Danson, Diane Keaton and Barbra Streisand. Obama will be at his own big-bucks fundraiser — $500-$2,300 per ticket — at the Avalon in Hollywood.
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