Caucus meetings around Nevada overflowed Saturday as record numbers of Democrats turned out, expressing dissatisfaction with President Bush and hoping to catch a glimpse of their leading contender to replace him.
An estimated 6,000 people participated in a Clark County caucus to select their presidential candidate - a huge increase over the 600 or so who turned out at the Las Vegas meeting four years ago.
Up north in Washoe County, the numbers were equally remarkable, with about 1,500 people packing a high school gymnasium in Reno. Only about 200 or so showed up at the last presidential caucus in 2000, said Mary Connelly, a longtime aide to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
"I've never seen crowds like this in my entire life," said Rep. Shelley Berkley, who attended the Las Vegas meeting. "This is extraordinary."
In Carson City, where fewer than 100 people attended the last presidential caucus, more than 500 people were on hand. In all, party officials said about 8,000 Democrats turned out statewide.
When they were done, Nevada's Democrats signaled their clear preference for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, giving him nearly two-thirds of their votes though delegates won't officially be committed until the state party convention in April.
Many of the state's Democratic leaders pointed to a single slogan - "Anybody But Bush."
T-shirts and signs bearing "A.B.B." were everywhere at the Clark County caucus at Chaparral High School, where the turnout was so large that it forced the crowd outside, under sunny southern Nevada skies.
"The crowd speaks for itself," Reid said. "We have this kind of fever all over the country."
Reid called the turnout phenomenal and said it was an indication the American people "want to take back the White House."
The start of the caucus in Las Vegas was delayed more than 30 minutes as party leaders awaited the arrival of Kerry and scrambled to move the meeting out of the 2,000-capacity gymnasium after objections from fire marshals.
More than a thousand people waited outside for Kerry's arrival. Amid chants of "No More Bush" and "Bush Must Go," the Kerry made his way through the rowdy crowd, shaking hands and signing autographs before leaving for Wisconsin.
The group then headed for the football field, where thousands packed the bleachers to listen to party leaders and representatives from each of the various campaigns.
Nevada Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus received perhaps the loudest cheers when she described what she believes to be Bush's record so far.
"Since George Bush has been president, lives have been lost, opportunities have been lost, the surplus has been lost, allies have been lost and jobs have been lost," she said. "Let's tell George Bush to get lost."
State Sen. Terry Care, Nevada co-chair for Kerry's campaign, attributed the large turnout partly to anti-Bush sentiments and partly to Kerry.
"Kerry has just lit a fire. There's something going on here," Care said.
Bush campaign officials said their supporters are equally energized about the upcoming election.
"We expect to be competitive in Nevada," said Tracey Schmitt, a spokeswoman for Bush-Cheney '04. "Nevadans are inspired by the leadership of President Bush and his record of working to make our country safer and more prosperous."
More than 200 people registered to vote as Democrats at the Washoe County caucus, many of them switching from the Republican Party, county Democratic Chairman Chris Wicker said.
He thought the 1,500 who turned out in Reno was impressive because the county has more registered Republicans than Democrats.
"So many people came up to me and said how wonderful it is to know there are so many Democrats in Washoe County," he said. "They had been feeling a little bit like they were without a lot of compatriots in their political philosophy."
For state Assemblyman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, the turnout was a sign that people were excited about the upcoming election.
"I see a lot of people here today who I've never seen at caucus meetings before," Anderson said. "We're hear to say the Democrats are alive and kicking."