If you’re heading to the Barack Obama rally tonight, get there early.
Doors at the Xcel Energy Center open at 7 p.m. for a Democratic political rally, where Obama and his wife, Michelle, presumably will declare victory in the Democratic Party’s contentious presidential nomination contest.
At Obama’s February rally in the Twin Cities, about 20,000 supporters crammed into Target Center in downtown Minneapolis. That event was free, too, but tickets were required. Even with tickets, a line formed to get inside a full six hours before the doors opened.
No tickets have been issued for tonight’s event. Admission will be first-come, first served. People are asked to RSVP with a form found here at Obama’s website.
Although Xcel holds only 18,000 for hockey, overflow seating and people on the center floor could bring the number inside to 20,000. And that’s what they’re expecting, said Kathy O’Connor, Xcel media relations director.
Three months from now, of course, Xcel will be the site of the Republican National Convention, where Sen. John McCain is expected to be chosen as his party’s presidential nominee.
Entry will be at Gates 1 and 3 at the arena, at Kellogg Boulevard and West Seventh Street in downtown St. Paul. Gate 1 is the main gate, near the ticket windows and Wild store, on the Kellogg side. Gate 3 is at West Seventh and Fifth Street.
Guest services workers — ushers — will direct people to their seats. Without tickets, it will be important to fill in all the available mid-row seats.
Suite holders, who receive tickets for all Xcel events, have been e-mailed vouchers to get into their suites for the event. They will have to enter with everyone else, though.
Traffic will be extremely heavy on the northwestern edge of downtown, as it is for Wild hockey games. The situation will be compounded by two high school graduations this evening in the adjoining Roy Wilkins Auditorium. Highland High School graduation is at 5:30 p.m.; Central High School’s is at 8 p.m. The school district has arranged for shuttle buses to carry graduates and their families from the Sears parking lot to the auditorium.
There are no shuttles planned for the political event.
Cost to the Obama campaign for the arena rental was not disclosed. Although the arena and accompanying complex are owned by the city of St. Paul, it is managed by the St. Paul Arena Co., and the contract, O’Connor said, is a private agreement between the campaign and the management company.
The Secret Service and the Obama campaign are in charge of security for the event and will also set up and monitor the waiting lines outside the arena, O’Connor said.
“The Obama people have done this before in other places around the country; they bring good expertise on how to handle it,” she said.
A program, with music and speeches will begin when the arena begins filling up. Although there is no set time for the Obamas to speak, it will be at the end of the program, presumably after the primary results are reported in Montana and South Dakota.
If you don’t want to wait in line or crowd into the arena, Channel 5, KSTP-TV, plans to stream the rally online at its website beginning at 8 p.m.
Tips for parking downtown near the arena can be found here.