The hottest ticket in town -- a chance to witness President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration -- will be the jackpot in an essay contest being announced by the Presidential Inaugural Committee.
In exchange, participants will be encouraged to donate to the inauguration, though organizers say that is not required.
Linda Douglass, an inaugural committee spokeswoman, said fundraising is "going well" and the committee's move is not an effort to raise cash but to give more Americans a chance to participate.
"This is a way of continuing to move toward our goal of involving as many people as possible," she said.
Ten winners will get tickets to the Jan. 20 swearing-in, the Inaugural Parade and one of the "official" inaugural balls. Each winner will be able to bring one guest. An added perk: Winners will receive airline tickets and two-nights' hotel accommodations -- a precious commodity in Washington, where hotel rooms have been booked for weeks.
To qualify, entrants must submit an essay at www.pic2009.org/tickettohistory that answers the question: "What does this inaugural mean to you?"
The deadline is Jan. 7 by midnight Eastern Standard Time. The winners will be chosen by the inaugural committee's staff.
Obama is working to raise roughly $45 million to fund the inauguration. Participants will be asked to donate in "any amount," according to a fundraising appeal being sent today to a list of 10 million people by Obama's campaign manager David Plouffe.
Obama has raised more than $21 million to help underwrite the balls, parade and an array of inaugural expenses not covered by taxpayer money. Donors who have contributed up to Obama's limit of $50,000 include billionaire financier George Soros and actress Halle Berry.
Winners will be picked on the strength of their essay, organizers said. There is no restriction on the essay's length.
There's no promise that the winners will get to meet Obama -- other than to catch sight of him at one of the 10 Inaugural Balls he and his wife, Michelle, will attend.
The contest is open to anyone 18 and older and limited to residents of the 50 states and D.C.
Winners won't have much time to make arrangements; they will be notified by Jan. 16 -- just four days before the event.
The committee has termed the contest "an invitation opportunity" to ensure that it won't run afoul of state laws governing lotteries and sweepstakes.