Washoe County’s Republican and Democratic county conventions met during the same weekend this year, and the Democrats were easy winners at turnout. More than 400 Democrats signed in at the registration desk at one casino conference hall; across town fewer than 100 Republicans signed in at another casino.
When an aide to U.S. Sen. Harry Reid told the Democratic convention that only 98 people showed up for the Republican convention, the Democrats cheered, apparently interpreting the turnouts as an indicator of grassroots enthusiasm for the two parties, which it probably was not. Delegates to the county conventions are elected at precinct caucuses at which presidential preferences are voted on, and the Democrats this year had competing presidential candidates and an unsettled race to draw people to the caucuses. The GOP did not. (The number of delegates who signed in at the GOP convention was actually 78.)
Nevertheless, Republican publicist Robert Larkin gave the Democrats their due. He said Washoe County Democratic Chairman Chris Wicker “has gone a long way toward getting the Democrats in this county professionally organized.”
Some of the Democratic delegates said they also credit party manager Pam duPre, who has provided the party with a full-time presence at party headquarters.
Of the 427 Democratic delegates, John Kerry received votes from 354 (83 percent) and Dennis Kucinich 44 (10 percent), with one vote for Al Sharpton and 28 uncommitted. But the ballot allowed votes only for currently active candidates and no place to write in. Nineteen of the uncommitted voters, mostly labor union members, insisted on declaring for Howard Dean anyway.
Some of those drawn into the party by Dean said they enjoyed the caucuses but the convention seemed lumbering and bureaucratic, bogged down in things like credentials reports and the drafting of the platform (a statement of where the Washoe Democratic Party stands on local, state, national and international issues). One Dean delegate said she expected the convention to be a more practical, action-oriented event, with networking between local candidates or organizations and potential volunteers. Writing a county platform no one will likely ever read seemed pointless to her.
Longtime Democratic delegate Patricia Swain said, “There’s no reason you can’t do both. I’ve done some networking since I got here.” Nevertheless, some delegates did not return to the convention after the lunch break.
Although the Democrats had a presidential nominating contest this year and the Republicans did not, it was the Democratic convention that seemed more serene. Even the debate on the Democratic platform was relatively even-tempered.
During the Republican platform debates, one radio reporter said, “The Democrats were boring, but here they’re really fighting over things.” The Republicans had sharp exchanges on such polarizing issues as stem cell research, and at one point even argued about the meaning of the word “proscribe.”
The harshest moment in the Democratic debate came when a delegate objected to a plank in the county platform calling for repeal of George Bush’s principal education initiative, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2003, also known as “no child left behind.” The delegate, a teacher, was roundly booed, prompting Platform Committee Chairwoman Nancyann Leeder to reprimand the convention: “That’s not the democratic way. The democratic way is everyone gets heard, and the person you just booed is a very active person in both local and state PTA organizations.”