Chalk up one for the caucus

On Valentine’s Day, Nevada Democrats will pledge their love for the candidates of their choice

Pam duPré, at Washoe County Democratic Party headquarters, explains Nevada’s caucus system.

Pam duPré, at Washoe County Democratic Party headquarters, explains Nevada’s caucus system.

Photo By David Robert

The Washoe County Democratic Party Precinct Caucuses start at 1 p.m. Feb. 14 at Wooster High School, 1331 Plumb Lane. All are welcome. Registered Democrats can participate in a straw poll vote for a Democratic presidential nominee. Call 348-8691 or visit

The party worker is talking about why the Democratic Party is pulling in new supporters in droves, when the phone rings. The answering machine kicks on, and soon there’s a woman’s voice leaving a message. She says she’d like to volunteer and leaves her name and address.

Perhaps she’s motivated by President Bush’s recent State of the Union address or by the outcome of the Iowa caucus—or the realization that Nevada’s Feb. 14 Democratic Party caucus is right around the corner.

“Like that woman,” says Pam duPré of the Washoe County Democratic Party, “every day, people come through our door and say, ‘What can I do to help?’ “

The activists’ epiphanies, as described by duPré, sound familiar. Those calling and walking in have not been especially politically active in the past.

“So they come in and say, ‘I don’t know what to do, but I want to do something.’ That’s encouraging. And we put them to work.”

Nothing like a presidential election to energize the marginally apathetic. The Democrats haven’t seen this kind of volunteer influx for a presidential election since 1992, when George Bush I was running against Bill Clinton.

“Polls show that George W. Bush has seriously divided this country,” duPré says.

Does this mean Democrats are plugging “Anybody but Bush 2004"? The slogan does have its detractors—Alexander Cockburn in a recent column in The Nation writes of “the strange hysteria of Democrats about Bush as a leader of such consummate evil, so vile that any Democrat would be preferable.”

The slogan, however, gains validity as people become aware of the Bush agenda and its consequences, duPré says. That’s what leads to, as she paraphrases: “Hell no, anybody but him.”

On the left, when you first walk into Washoe County’s Democratic Party headquarters, a bookcase is lined with campaign materials for several candidates. There are shelves for John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich and Wes Clark. There’s a shelf for Dick Gephardt with stickers, fliers and pamphlets—on the very bottom of the bookcase.

“I guess we’ll have to take Gephardt out of there,” duPré says.

Washoe County Democrats—even those new to the party—will get together to select candidates in a caucus on Feb. 14 at Wooster High School. (In Carson City, Democrats will meet at Bordewich/Bray Elementary School. Folks from Churchill, Douglas, Lyon or Storey counties can find their Place to Caucus by visiting

About a thousand people are expected to show up at the Washoe County caucus. To participate, you need to be 18 years old, a U.S. citizen and a resident of Nevada for 30 days preceding any election. Good news for political newbies: You don’t need to know what precinct you’re in; the experienced volunteers will tell you. Also, you can register to vote or change your party affiliation to Democratic at the caucus, then go ahead and participate with everyone else.

People new to the area often feel baffled by how the caucus system works.

It’s not a primary. Nevada is a bit like Iowa, where Democrats from various voting precincts meet in churches and living rooms to select top picks for candidates. Only Nevadans come together in large groups, by county.

The caucus will include the taking of a “straw poll” to determine broad candidate support, discussion and debate at the precinct level as well as a few brief talks by elected officials and Democrats seeking office. The Democrats from various precincts will choose delegates to represent them at the Washoe County Democratic Party Convention on March 13. At the county convention, delegates will be elected to go to the state convention. At the state convention in April, 36 delegates—six from Washoe County—will be elected to go to the national convention.

But it all starts with those precinct caucuses.

“This is how Nevadans vote for their Democratic candidates,” duPré says.

Undecided Democrats are welcome to attend the caucuses.

Despairing comments about the nagging number of similarities between Democrats and Republican haven’t gone away despite the “Anybody but Bush” battle cry. The parties are two sides to the same coin, it’s often argued, two packages that, when unwrapped, reveal the same old smarmy, lying politicians who pledge allegiance to the power mongers who got them elected.

While there’s plenty of evidence that the two-party system is in need of some sturdy reform, duPré makes a case for the clear differences between the current administration and the Democratic Party’s agenda.

“The difference … is as distinct and pronounced as it has been between parties in a very long time,” she says. “Any thoughtful voter has a very clear choice. We believe that people [need to] take the time to look at the record of the Bush administration—not listen to the rhetoric but look at the record.”

DuPré begins with Bush’s environmental record and “the deliberate, systematic dismantling of environmental protections established over the last several administrations.”

Also, foreign policy.

“In short order, he’s radically changed the direction of foreign policy in our country with his policy of unilateral pre-emptiveness.”

And the economy.

“His answer to everything regarding the economy is more tax cuts, even when advisers in his own administration felt that the way he structured the tax cuts was poor policy. … A tax policy that clearly favors the wealthy gives the wealthy a disproportionate amount of relief compared with lower and middle working classes.”

Seems the above would be enough, but duPré finds herself on a roll. “I’ll go on,” she says, launching into what she refers to as Bush’s “so-called Medicare reform.”

“The only reform there was came in the level of security that drug companies have to continue to make profits.”

DuPré began working for the Washoe County Democrats earlier this year. Previously, she’d spent 13 years at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. She entered the life of political activist pretty much like those individuals who call or walk in the door.

“I’d always wanted to be more involved in the Reno community,” she says. “So one day I called that number in the phone book.”

She pauses and laughs. "If I had known what I was getting into. … No, it was a very productive phone call. I’ve been around the party for a long time."