DENVER — Three days of searching and it's starting to look grim.

Going in, I didn't think it would be that much of a problem, finding a ticket to Barack Obama's acceptance speech tonight.

Chiefly, this optimism was based on 75,000 seats at INVESCO Field, home of the Denver Broncos and site of the speech. That's a lot of seats. Plus, the seats are free. Plus, it's not a football game, or even a monster truck pull, it's a speech. I figured someone would have a spare.

But whoever said never take anything for granted when it comes to politics — and if someone didn't say that they should have — was right.

Tickets are as scarce around here as John McCain tributes.

I might have gotten in as a member of the media, but the allotment for the Deseret News is two tickets, and we have a team of three here on the ground: Bob Bernick Jr. and Lee Davidson in addition to myself.

This did not bode well for me. Bernick and Davidson have been covering politics since almost before I was born. They know how to spell filibuster. They know their way around both sides of the aisle. Plus, they got here first.

They suggested I talk to the Utah delegation, which I did. Todd Taylor, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party, said the party didn't have any more tickets and they didn't get nearly as many as they wanted in the first place, but he was sympathetic to my cause and gave me some sound advice.

"Uh, you know, pray," he said.

I asked Bill Orton. You'd think a former congressman would have plenty of connections.

And he did have tickets.

"For me, my boys, and my wife," he said, "and I had to fight like a banshee to get those."

I asked superdelegate Karen Hale if she had any spares. Clearly a compassionate sort of person who doesn't like to say no, she gave me her cell number. "Call me if you get desperate," she said.

I even tried other media. I talked to Chris Vanocur of Channel 4, who said, "I'd love to give you my ticket, but then you'd have to do my live shot."

And I tried online — only to discover that the Democrats threatened that anyone selling a ticket on Web sites such as Craigslist or eBay or Stubhub would have their barcodes invalidated, shutting down the scalping business cold.

I know. I thought the same thing. What is this country coming to?

On Wednesday, I went to plan F — cruise the streets of downtown Denver until I found someone selling free tickets.

I started at the "Freewheelin"' stand at 17th and Lincoln — one of about a dozen places around town where Humana, the health organization, is renting bicycles for free. All you do is give them your credit card for a totally refundable deposit (if you don't wreck the bike) and they give you a bike for the day — in my case a Schwinn one-speed with a carrying case in front.

I was on a free bike, wearing a free helmet, in a free country, riding free as a bird along the Cherry Creek bike path when I came around a corner and saw a man at a table next to a sign that said "Free Water and Sunscreen."

I thought it might be an omen.

The man introduced himself as Robert and said the booth was one of several set up especially for the convention by a coalition of Denver churches.

"Just trying to do what the Bible says," said Robert as he reached into a cooler and tossed me a bottle of Life Water. "It doesn't say protest, it says serve."

I knew an opening when I saw one.

"Well then, could you serve me up a free ticket to Obama's speech?"

Robert said he would if he could but he couldn't.

"I don't know anybody who has one of those tickets," he said.

Next I stopped some Denver policewomen who were doing such a good job guarding an entrance to the Pepsi Center that they looked totally bored.

"Arrested anybody trying to scalp Obama speech tickets?" I asked.

"We haven't seen a single ticket scalper all week," said officer K. Rogers. She said it wasn't at all like the World Series last fall, when people were selling tickets like crazy at 20th and Blake Street.

I pedaled over to 20th and Blake, opposite the entrance to Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies

No one was there.

Inside a sports apparel store called "Sportsfan," Phil Walmsley was wearing an "Obama '08" hat as he described the ticket-selling frenzy last October when the Rockies played the Boston Red Sox.

"Scalpers were everywhere," he said. "Lots of Boston fans were willing to pay big money."

"I guess politics is a different ball game," he shrugged.

I said I guessed so too.

I retraced my steps along Cherry Creek to head uptown and turn in my free bike, utterly defeated but oddly proud of all those unseen ticket-holders hanging onto their seats. Who'd have thought? A free ticket to a speech is the toughest ticket in the country.


Lee Benson is filing columns daily from the Democratic National Convention. You can e-mail him at [email protected]