Washoe Democrats Eye January 14th Presidential Caucus

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Washoe County Democrats are organizing to improve party organization and boost attendance at February's presidential caucuses in hopes of reversing a Republican tide that swept over the state in 2002.

"I've never seen people as motivated to be sure Sen. (Harry) Reid keeps his seat and (President) Bush doesn't win Nevada," said Chris Wicker, a Reno lawyer who chairs the Washoe County Democratic Party.

"The party's more organized than it ever has been and more active in northern Nevada than ever before," he said Tuesday. "From my viewpoint it has not always been the best organized."

In 2002, Republicans scored a virtual sweep of Nevada, re-electing GOP Gov. Kenny Guinn in a landslide and claiming a newly created congressional seat as well as all five other top statewide offices. U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley of Las Vegas was the only Democrat to win above the local level in Nevada.

Bush also carried the state in 2000.

"From a party standpoint in 2002, they (Democrats) were very unorganized and I haven't seen anything to the contrary since that election cycle," said Chris Carr, executive director of Nevada's Republican Party.

Wicker acknowledged Nevada Democrats "could have used some stronger candidates" in the last election. But he said the losses had more to do with heavy turnout of conservative Republicans determined to cast ballots for a measure banning gay marriages and against one legalizing possession of up to 3 ounces of marijuana.

"People came out to vote on those issues," he said.

Since then, Nevada's Democratic Party has hired three full-time staffers to work out of their Reno office along with Pam duPre, the new executive director of the Washoe County Democratic Party.

"That represents a serious commitment on the part of the state party as well as the Washoe County party to get organized and stay organized," said duPre, who until recently was spokeswoman for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

"Our goal is to greatly increase our list of active Democrats," duPre said.

As of October, there were 374,603 registered Republicans and 366,301 registered Democrats in Nevada - 85,722 Republicans and 68,423 Democrats in Washoe County.

DuPre said 50 to 60 party activists have been attending the party's monthly meetings in Reno.

The 300 people who attended last year's main fund-raiser were surpassed by record attendance of about 400 at a recent $75-a-plate dinner, Wicker said.

"In Democratic circles, that's a large amount," he said.

Washoe County Democrats planned a meeting Tuesday night to try to stir interest in presidential precinct caucuses set across Nevada on Feb. 14.

Only about 300 Democrats attended precinct caucuses in Washoe County in 2000, but that was largely because Al Gore already had the nomination wrapped up, Wicker said.

About 1,000 attended in 1992 when Bill Clinton was vying with several other candidates in a situation similar to this year.

"I'd be thrilled if we approached those numbers," Wicker said.

Wicker and duPre agree former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is the best organized among the Democratic presidential hopefuls active in northern Nevada, but Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Gen. Wesley Clark also are building support in the region.

"You can see it several different ways, the number of people that attend their meetings, the activities they do," Wicker said. "They are far and away the most active group, certainly in northern Nevada.

"Kerry and Kucinich are in the next tier then Clark. We haven't seen much of an organization from the others."

"I'm in the ABB camp - Anybody But Bush," duPre said.

Wicker said feelings about Bush run strong on both sides.

"It's no secret Bush has been a polarizing president. He has followed an extreme agenda down just about every issue you look at," he said.